by Amy L. Covell-Murthy
It is important for Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) to maintain relationships with the diverse Indigenous communities whose stories we hope to share with the Greater Pittsburgh Area. This ensures that we are centering Indigenous knowledge in how we collect, display, care for, and interpret cultural material. A very important part of this work is to continuously consult with tribal representatives and Indigenous advisors. This is most evident in the process of repatriation, which is governed in the United States by a federal law called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which was signed in 1991.
In November 2022, as the concluding action of nearly ten years of consultation, I travelled 962 miles West to complete a NAGPRA transfer with a representative of the Quapaw Nation. I met Carrie Wilson, Quapaw NAGPRA Director, at the Arkansas Archaeological Survey at the University of Arkansas, where we rejoined human remains from Poinsette County with other Quapaw people to await a proper and private reinternment in the future. Afterward, by volunteering at the O-Gah-Pah “Quapaw” Fall Gathering in Northeastern Oklahoma at the Downstream Resort and Casino, I had the pleasure of a brief immersion in some aspects of Quapaw Culture.
Carrie and I had our work cut out for us preparing for the Fall Gathering. We got to know one another better over lunch and then drove to Quapaw, Oklahoma to get ready. On the day of the event, I rolled up my sleeves and helped sell 50/50 raffle tickets, organize games for kids, keep track of auction items, and set up for the Stomp Dance. I learned how to play Quapaw Dice and cheered everyone on in the foot races. I met so many wonderful people and was humbled by the welcome I received. I ate my share of fry bread and chili and paused to be thankful for the opportunity to forge such meaningful relationships.
While volunteering I was able to meet Betty Gaedtke or Te-mi-zhi-ka (little buffalo woman). Betty is an accomplished Quapaw artist who specializes in authentic Quapaw and Mississippian Pottery. While Betty’s pieces are authentic, they are not archaeological and provide a window into Quapaw style and technique. Her work can be seen in fifteen different venues, including the Crystal Bridges Museum, the Museum of The Ghost Ranch, and the Gilcrease Museum. Thanks to a generous endowment, CMNH was able to purchase two pieces from Betty in 2023 to add to our collection and help us bring the story of the Quapaw to Pittsburgh. These pieces are a great reminder that the Quapaw Nation is alive and well.
So many things in Pittsburgh are inspired by the confluence of our three rivers. Things are named after them, transported on them, and festivals are held on and around them. Like the important role the three rivers play in our local culture, the Mississippi River is very significant to the Quapaw Nation and instrumental in how their name formed. According to the Quapaw Nation website: “The Quapaw were a division of a larger group known as the Dhegiha Sioux many years ago. The Dhegiha split into the tribes known today as the Quapaw, Osage, Ponca, Kansa, and Omaha when they left the Ohio Valley. The Quapaw moved down the Mississippi River into Arkansas, this is the origin of the word Ogaxpa, which can be translated as “downstream people.” You can learn more by visiting QuapawTribe.com.
Caring for culturally significant collections takes empathy and the willingness to accept Indigenous ways of knowing when making decisions on behalf of the material. We are working hard to bring authentic and diverse voices into the narratives that CMNH shares. So, join me in learning more about the O-Gah-Pah and remember to stop relegating Indigenous people and communities to the past when they are thriving across our country.
Amy L. Covell-Murthy is Archaeological Collection Manager at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History Blog Citation InformationBlog author: Covell-Murthy, Amy
Publication date: May 24, 2023