In Honor of the People

In Honor of the People

By Meghan Evans

In 2008, Minnesotans voted for an increase in sales taxes to create the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment (Legacy Amendment). This amendment gave much needed financial support “to preserve arts and cultural heritage”. [1] One project funded by the Legacy Amendment was In Honor of the People, a website exhibiting objects and photographs from the collection of Bishop Whipple.

For Minnesota, Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple was and is an important figure. He came to Minnesota in 1859 as a missionary to serve the ever-rising population of settlers. This rise in population brought great strife between settlers and Native peoples. Strife lead to fighting and eventually war. The people of Minnesota looked to community leaders for guidance and support. Whipple answered that call advocating for peace.

Whipple’s work gave him prominent status amongst the tribes and settlers. They respected him for his compassion and philanthropy in establishing churches and schools to benefit the community. Whipple also showed respect for Native American art and culture and collected many objects for educational purposes. His work earned him a national reputation that lead him to advise several political leaders, including 4 presidents.

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 4.52.42 PM
Bandolier Bag attributed to maker Sophia Smith

I recently had the honor of speaking with co-project leader Marcia G. Anderson. Though the purpose of Whipple’s collection was and is educational, the purpose of the website is to share the objects and photographs acquired by The Minnesota Historical Society and the Science Museum of Minnesota. The frame of the site allows visitors to search the collection by People, Places, Material culture, and Voices. Researchers, artists, and schools benefit from the site due to its easy accessibility and searchability.

The Voices section allows visitors to contribute to discussions about the collection and its relevance today. Several of these posts are from prominent members of the local tribal community, including bandolier bag makers Mel Losh and Cheryl Minnema. Their posts share their experiences in making bandolier bags and how pieces from the Whipple collection inspired their creativity.

Artist Cheryl Minnema notes, “I can spend hours looking at photos of bandolier bags, there is so much to consider; the size and color of beads, shape and flow of flowers and vines, and the stories behind the beaded images of birds, flags, and names. Knowing how much time it takes to prepare the materials, layout the design, and sew on the beads until the entire are is full and smooth, I appreciate every detail.” [2]

Though the website is an outstanding achievement of collections accessibility, it now sits stagnate. The most up to date post dates to May 2011 and those who have contributed are either former project leaders or friends of former project leaders. This indicates a lack of active community. Anderson expressed her regret in having only one year of funding. Had the project been renewed for a second year, she could have provided more development, evaluation, and marketing. This website could have matured further and a well-rounded online community might have formed.

Whipple used his collection to educate the nation about Native American culture. Thanks to organizations like the Minnesota Historical Society and the Science Museum of Minnesota, Whipple’s legacy lives on and continues to encourage advocacy for American Indian rights through easy accessibility. Everyday, hundreds of school groups view this collection on display and learn about these amazing cultures. Now, schools unable to visit the collection in person can turn on a computer and see the collection up close.

 

Citations

[1] “About the Funds”, Legislative Coordinating Commission, accessed April 9, 2013, http://www.legacy.leg.mn/about-funds

[2] “Commentary on the beadwork of Sophia Smith”, Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment, Science Museum of Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Society, accessed April 9, 2013, http://www.inhonorofthepeople.org/voices/commentary-beadwork-sophia-smith

 

Bibliography

“About the Funds”, Legislative Coordinating Commission, accessed April 9, 2013,

http://www.legacy.leg.mn/about-funds

“Commentary on the beadwork of Sophia Smith”, Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment, Science Museum of Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Society, accessed April 9, 2013, http://www.inhonorofthepeople.org/voices/commentary-beadwork-sophia-smith

“In honor of the people: Exploring American Indian culture in the Bishop Whipple collections”, Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment, Science Museum of Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Society, accessed April 9, 2013, http://www.inhonorofthepeople.org/.

 

Images courtesy of the website “In honor of the people: Exploring American Indian culture in the Bishop Whipple collections”.

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