Laura E. Smith

Associate Professor of Art History, Michigan State University

Nitaawichige: Skilled at Making Things

Our project extends work at the Michigan State University Museum with Anishinaabe master and apprentice makers over several decades through its involvement in the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, folklife festival programs, and other projects, including with Indigenous museums and Tribal cultural heritage partners. This history has resulted in the accumulation of a paper, video, and oral archive related to Anishinaabe makers and knowledge. We are assessing how best to assemble this ephemera into an accessible media format, link it to the museum’s heritage item collections and database, and share it through the GRASAC database as a useful tool for makers and researchers.

We describe our work as animating the museum’s cultural collections because it is driven by building effective relationships in alignment with Indigenous community priorities and supporting local knowledge and resource sharing. The project is also bringing together regional makers of renown, many of whom have works in the MSU Museum collections, with interested local urban Indigenous community members including Elders, Knowledge Keepers, seniors, adults, and youth.

In August 2017, we held a weekend workshop with key makers Wasson Renee DillardYvonne Walker Keshick, Rosie Deland, and Elizabeth Kimewon accompanied by some of their relative-apprentices. The meeting was held in the territory of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa. Makers brought some of their own works to initiate discussions about how making processes, teaching, learning, and intergenerational knowledge sharing may be enhanced by the GRASAC initiative and relationship with the MSU Museum and its collections.

We have also established a weekly makers’ circle open to all in the university and local community. Working with the MSU American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program, we are supporting occasional master-classes for circle attendees to further consider engagement between the MSU Museum, GRASAC and the local community.

Judy Pierzynowski, co-project lead, herself a highly skilled maker and undergraduate student at MSU, has taken up paid internships with the MSU Native American Institute and the Museum to support work on this project. Her work at the Museum includes updating maker/artist and object files, photography of heritage items which take into account the image perspectives which may be most useful to makers, and preparing a group of 20-30 items to add to the GKS database.

In October 2017, we presented a paper on this work at the meeting of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Ethnography, held this year at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC. Our paper, “Indigenous Makers and the Animation of Material Narratives,” has been invited to be included as a chapter in the edited volume resulting from the conference: Museums and Communities: Diversity, Dialogue and Collaboration in an Age of Migrations, edited by Viv Golding and Jenny Walklate and published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

We are excited to be a part of extending the GRASAC partnership base and increasing the potential of the GKS database for Anishinaabe communities on the U.S. side of their territories.

Team Members:

Team Leads: Heather Howard-Bobiwash, Marsha MacDowell, Judy Pierzynowski, Laura Smith (from Michigan State University)

Participants in our August 2017 Anishinaabe Makers Meeting: Wasson Renee Dillard, Yvonne Walker Keshick, Jacob Keshick, Kimberly Worthington, Elizabeth Kimewon, Rosie Deland

Chi miigwetch:

We would also like to thank the MSU Native American Institute and MSU Museum for their additional financial and structural support of this project.