What Does Being Native American in New York Today Mean?

Video by Laurine Lassalle

By Laurine Lassalle
April 2, 2019
On this Sunday of November 2018, the Children’s Museum of the Arts in Manhattan welcomed Cliff Matias and two dancers from the nonprofit organization Redhawk Native American Arts Council to perform with hoops and sing with drums in traditional Native American outfits in front of a particular young amazed audience.

 

November is not only the Native American Indian Heritage Month but also the election period in the United States. The 2018 midterms raised complain among the Native American communities when the Supreme Court decided not to overrule a voter I.D. law passed in the state of North Dakota making residential address mandatory to vote. Native Americans who live on reservations do not use street address but use PO boxes instead, making them unable to vote — unless they get a new ID with a complete mailing address.  

"They put people on reservations, in the middle of nowhere, and now they are holding against them that they didn’t give them street addresses," Cliff Matias said. "People seem to forget that in America the right to vote was just for white men. The struggle to vote for people of color continues."

Indian School in South Dakota
Boarding School in Oklahoma

Native Americans were not allowed to vote until 1924 and until 1948 in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Voter suppression is part of a larger picture in which assimilation policy occurred in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Native American children were forced to give up their indigenous identity to assimilate into Anglo culture while attending boarding schools or so-called "Indian schools." 

Photo by Laurine Lassalle

The Hollywood western movies, as well as the cartoons, depicted stereotypical representations of Native Americans. The Native characters were either the villains of the stories or the "noble savages" when they helped the white hero.

 

Native American organizations meet children and talk to them showing who really are the Native Americans to break down these stereotypes.

Video by Laurine Lassalle

Video by Laurine Lassalle

Michael Taylor-Dancing Wolf is a modern dancer and member of The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers. This organization plans a series of events to revive the Native American culture and make it accessible to anyone by teaching the songs and the dances. "We are going into schools, not in our regalia, but dress the way we are, and [the kids] start to know us," Taylor-Dancing Wolf said. In March 2019, the organization hosted a storytelling night to share indigenous tales with adults and children. 

Video by Laurine Lassalle

"Storytelling means moving; it’s not only speaking. Dancing is storytelling also," said Louis Mofsie, the founding director of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers.

 

The modern dancer Michael Taylor-Dancing Wolf was born in Los Angeles and met Louis Mofsie when he moved to New York. "I always knew I was Native American, but I fully embraced my Native American culture when I was 30," said Taylor-Dancing Wolf who is working on combining modern and Native American dances.

Video by Laurine Lassalle

For Cliff Matias, there has been a revival of Americans wanting to learn knowledge from indigenous artists and educators. 

 

Michael Taylor noticed a change in the kind of interest, "I think in the sixties and seventies, it was a fad. People thought it was very cool to be Native American or to be involved, even though Native Americans were suffering. Now it’s more real. The interest is much more about who Native Americans really are, not what they have seen on TV, what looks popular, what color skin you should have if you’re Native American, but who are we," Taylor said. "We are modern people but still have the culture alive."