Review: Prelude to Totems to Turquoise – Native North American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and Southwest

Nicky Levell, PhD student, UCL Anthropology
On Saturday 30 2004, the Totems to Turquoise exhibition debuted at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The opening ceremony, from 12.00 – 5.00 pm in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, began with a special welcome by representatives of New York’s local Native American community, including Sidney Hill, the spiritual representative of the Iroquois Confederacy. Ceremonial leaders of the Haida and Navajo nations then gave their blessings for the exhibit and the afternoon concluded with dance performances by communities from the northwest and southwest.
Having spent the past two years touring the States (New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles), the exhibition is being brought to the Pacific Northwest. As a prelude to the opening of the exhibit, the Vancouver Museum and its sponsor, the Bill Reid Foundation, organized a ceremonial announcement of the exhibition that took place in Vanier Park on Wednesday August 23, 2006.

The ceremony began at 10.30 am with the arrival of the war canoe, Black Eagle, which was cast from an original (Lootaas) by the eminent Haida artist, Bill Reid (1920-1998). The canoe carried the exhibition’s two artist-advisors Chief Jim Hart (Haida), Jesse Monongye (Navajo (Diné) and Hopi) and one of the show’s curators, Lois Sherr Dubin.
On the shoreline, to witness its arrival, were invited guests, including chiefs, representatives of local First Nation communities, representatives of the media, councilors (the mayor), members of the museum community and the cultural elite, amongst others. As the canoe approached the shore, Chief Jim Hart asked permission of the assembled local chiefs of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tseil-Waututh peoples to come ashore their traditional Salish territory and announce the arrival of a ‘great exhibition of native art’. With permissions granted, the witnesses joined a procession, headed by First Nation drummers, chiefs and councilors, from the shoreline to the Museum. Inside the Museum’s auditorium, after a number of blessings, a program of official speeches took place charting the history of the exhibition and the significance of its future presence and form in Vancouver. Final words rested with the Bill Reid Foundation that outlined its hope to secure further funding for the exhibition through its Donor of the Day program. The event concluded with a feast; a buffet of northwest and southwest foods for which thin cross-sections of cedar wood were offered as plates. Each regional platter of food, laid out on a trestle table, was labeled and small-scale northwest coast painted paddles that were raffled as this ‘spectacular event’ concluded.
Totems to Turquoise: Native North American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and Southwest, October 27, 2006 – March 25, 2007
Vancouver Museum, Vanier Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
(Sponsored by the Vancouver Museum and the Bill Reid Foundation.)
Originally organized by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), New York: co-curated by the AMNH’s Peter M Whiteley, Curator of North American Ethnology, and Lois Sherr Dubin, lecturer and author, with advising artists: Chief Jim Hart (Haida Nation) and Jesse Monongye (Navajo (Diné) and Hopi).

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Figure 1: Black Eagle approaches Vanier Park shoreline,
23 August 2006. Photo: N Levell
Figure 2: Paddles raised, ‘canoe at attention’, 23
August 2006. Photo: N Level
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Figure 3: Chief Jim Hart asks permission
to come ashore, 23 August 2006. Photo: N Levell
Figure 4: Guests gather to witness Black
Eagle war canoe approaching shoreline, Vanier Park, 23 August 2006. Photo:
N Levell
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Figure 5: Local First Nations representatives,
giving their permission for the Black Eagle canoe party to come ashore.
(L-R: Bob Baker, Councilor Squamish Nation; Chief Bill Williams, Squamish
Nation; Carleen Thomas, Councilor, Tseil-Waututh; Elder Larry Grant, Musqueam
Nation; Jordan Point, Councilor, Musqueam Nation.) Photo: N Levell
Figure 6: Chief Bill Williams, Squamish
Nation, drumming marking the procession’s entrance into the Vancouver Museum,
23 August 2006. Photo: N Levell
Figure 7: Dorothy Grant (Haida) and Jesse
Monongye (Navajo (Diné) and Hopi) on stage during Chief Jim Hart’s speech.
Vancouver Museum auditorium, 23 August 2006. Photo: N Levell

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