New on-campus exhibit honors Native American Aggies past and present

Side-by-side portraits of Texas A&M senior George Hass show him wearing his Cadet Corps uniform and a set of traditional handmade insignia.

Emily Sartin/Texas A&M University Division of Marketing and Communications

Two photos of Texas A&M University senior George Hass hang side by side on a wall in the Forsyth Galleries at the Texas A&M Memorial Student Center. On the left, Hass is pictured standing to attention in the Corps of Cadets’ iconic midnight uniform. On the right, he stands with his hands on his hips, sporting a set of traditional regalia that he has meticulously handcrafted to honor his Creek and Nez Perce heritage.

“The Corps me that you see every day is one side, but that other side with insignia and respect for the culture is also me,” Hass said. “It may be two sides, but it’s the same coin.”

Hass, who will graduate in Environmental Design Architecture Studies in May, is one of many Native American Aggies whose stories and experiences are highlighted by Forsyth Galleries’ latest exhibition, “HERE: Faces and Voices of Native Aggies”. Organized by students from Department of Anthropology An advanced course in museum studies, the exhibit showcases the many contributions Native Americans have made to Texas A&M from its founding to the present day.

“I really hope that someone walking away from this exposure has a new understanding of what it means to be a Native American in the United States today,” said Assistant Professor Heather Thakar, who teaches the course.

Thakar, who is also curator of anthropology research collections, said the exhibit draws heavily on work she and other researchers have done as part of an ongoing project funded by the Q3: Texas A&M Triads for Transformation program.

a photo of several strands of turquoise beads on a transparent base

A set of traditional Navajo turquoise beads loaned to the exhibition by Rolando Pineda, class of 2021.

Emily Sartin/Texas A&M University Division of Marketing and Communications

One of the many goals of this project, titled “Understanding the Role of Indigenous Lands and Peoples for Texas A&M University,” was to piece together the history of Native American students on the A&M campus. This semester, Thakar students went above and beyond to share this story with a wider audience.

“They were able to pull it all together, adding new interviews, content and belongings borrowed from former students, to produce something that I think really showed an amazing side of who we are as a community here. at A&M,” Thakar mentioned.

The Aggies featured in the exhibit come from a wide variety of tribes, backgrounds, and time periods. Photos, documents and other materials tell the stories of star athletes, war heroes, artists and scientists.

PhD in anthropology. Student Olivia Brill, who worked on the exhibit with classmates Abigail Hill, Casey Black, Claire Zak and Jannah Burgess, said she was particularly enthralled to learn about an Aggie who spoke about the Choctaw code during World War I, Otis W. Leader.

“Natives weren’t allowed to speak their native language in the United States at that time,” Brill said. “They weren’t considered full citizens, yet he served our nation in a very unique way.”

Other notable figures from A&M’s early years include Victor “Choc” Kelley and Michael R. Balenti, noted multi-sport athletes who played for the Aggies in the early 20th century. Balenti was the first Texas A&M alumnus to play major league baseball.

Many of the newer stories featured in the gallery come from current or former members of the Native American and Indigenous Student Organization (NAISO) who worked closely with the exhibit’s curators throughout the planning and design process. ‘execution.

“It really helps to reinforce and highlight the idea that we belong in the Texas A&M community,” said Madeleine Flanders, animal science manager, member of the Oglala Lakota Nation and president of NAISO. “Native American students have contributed so much to the culture here, and we are an integral part of the Aggie network.”

It is precisely this sense of enduring presence that the exhibit aims to convey, said Angela Hudson, a professor at Department of History and Educational Advisor to NAISO. The exhibit opened shortly before this year’s Aggie Muster, and it intentionally invokes Muster tradition in its title, “HERE.”

“A lot of times we go to a Native history exhibit, and it presents Native people as people of the past, people who once were,” Hudson said. “I love that this exhibition is organized around Muster’s week and around the theme ‘HERE’, because it kind of touches on both levels: the loved ones who are no longer here, but also demand an account of who is here now. , and pay attention to their stories.

For Hass, being surrounded by the faces and voices of so many other Native American Aggies was an experience like no other. Looking around the gallery, he said he felt much less alone – and even more proud of this part of his identity.

“The fact that I can come here and see that it’s not just me, see that I’m part of a long chain that goes back to when I started college, is fantastic,” Hass said. “It’s phenomenal, and I couldn’t be more grateful that it’s something I can say.”

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