To commemorate Pride Month and express support for the LGBTQ+ community, throughout June the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at The University of New Mexico is posting blog posts written by scholars and curators that tell stories embedded in the museum collections.
Histories, cultures and stories of the LGBTQ+ communities and historic antecedents are often hard to find in museum collections, and museums themselves have often been guilty of ignoring, erasing or obscuring them. The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology is committed to recovering and highlighting these stories, communities and individuals and the blogs posted throughout the month are part of fulfilling that commitment and celebrating the immense contributions of LGBTQ+ people to the human story.
The latest post Ethnographic Photograph Collections and Other Gendered Stories by Devorah Romanek, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology curator of Exhibits and head of interpretation, and Queer anthropologist, examines individuals who had variable sexualities or genders in the Indigenous communities.
“Gender and sexuality, throughout human history, has been variable and complex, and so much more than two genders ̶ male and female ̶ and one sexuality ̶ heterosexuality ̶ and museums are well placed to tell that story,” Romanek said.
Among the portraits Romanek discusses is perhaps the earliest known photograph of a Native American other-gendered person or persons is this 1877 photograph of Osh-Tisch (Finds-Them-and-Kills-Them) and wife. Osh-Tisch fought in the 1876 Battle of the Rosebud in which the United States Army and its Crow and Shoshoni allies fought against the Lakota and Cheyenne. Osh Tish was not the only woman to fight in that battle. Her friend The-Other-Magpie fought in that battle as well, and perhaps it is The-Other-Magpie who is Osh-Tisch’s wife in this photo.
Romanek also highlights one of the most photographed and best documented gender-varied people, We’wha. We’wha was a lhamana (Zuni Two Spirit) individual, who took on both male and female tasks. She was a weaver and potter and an important figure in the burgeoning 19th century Native American arts market. In 1879 We’wha became friends with the anthropologist Matilda Cox Stevenson and went on to be part of the 1885 Zuni delegation to Washington, D.C. to meet with government officials.
Another example of a gender different Native American found portrayed in a photograph found in a museum ethnographic collection comes in fact from the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology Archives. The Maxwell Museum Archives contains approximately 100,000 photographs, including an important collection with numerous images of another Diné nádleehí, weaver and hatáałii Hostiin (also Hosteen) Klah (featured photo at top of this article). He is most well-known for his sand painting weavings, even as the depiction of sacred sand paintings was and is controversial among Diné.
The article also contains related links to their stories, explanations of the term “two spirit,” and more.
Read the full blog post here.
Read Queer Anthropology, the first blog in the series. The article looks at anthropologists who were what we would now call “queer.”
Grandma Klah’s family, from left, Hostiin Klah and some family members Adesbah and her three daughters, Mrs. Sam, Mrs. Jem, and Daisy with her son, and Grandma Klah’s granddaughter Lucy Hapaha, ca 1930s, by Franc Newcomb (Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, 2012.201.88)
Osh-Tish (Finds-Them-and-Kills-Them), left, and wife, Crow, 1877, by John H. Fouch. (Public domain)
We’Wha, Zuni,1879-1894, by John K. Hillers. (Public domain, National Archives)