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Officially Indian

Symbols that Define the United States

2017
Author:

Cécile Ganteaume
Foreword by Colin G. Calloway
Afterword by Paul Chaat Smith

Officially Indian

A wide-ranging exploration of the symbolic importance of American Indians in the visual language of U.S. democracy

From maps, monuments, and architectural features to stamps and currency, images of Native Americans have been used repeatedly on visual expressions of American national identity since before the country’s founding. In the first in-depth study of this extraordinary archive, Cécile R. Ganteaume argues that these representations reflect how government institutions have attempted to define what the country stands for.

From maps, monuments, and architectural features to stamps and currency, images of Native Americans have been used again and again on visual expressions of American national identity since before the country’s founding. In the first in-depth study of this extraordinary archive, Cécile R. Ganteaume argues that these representations are not empty symbols but reflect how official and semi-official government institutions—from the U.S. Army and the Department of the Treasury to the patriotic fraternal society Sons of Liberty—have attempted to define what the country stands for. Seen collectively and studied in detail, American Indian imagery on a wide range of emblems—almost invariably distorted and bearing little relation to the reality of Native American–U.S. government relations—sheds light on the United States’ evolving sense of itself as a democratic nation.

Generation after generation, Americans have needed to define anew their relationship with American Indians, whose lands they usurped and whom they long regarded as fundamentally different from themselves. Such images as a Plains Indian buffalo hunter on the 1898 four-cent stamp and Sequoyah’s likeness etched into glass doors at the Library of Congress in 2013 reveal how deeply rooted American Indians are in U.S. national identity. While the meanings embedded in these artifacts can be paradoxical, counterintuitive, and contradictory to their eras’ prevailing attitudes toward actual American Indians, Ganteaume shows how the imagery has been crucial to the ongoing national debate over what it means to be an American.

Officially Indian

Cécile R. Ganteaume is associate curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

About This Book