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Tonto, Teepees, & Totem Poles Exhibit Takes a New Look at Stereotypes

May 16, 2018 2:45 PM | Stephanie Shultes

“Tonto, Teepees & Totem Poles: Considering Native American Stereotypes in the 21st Century” opened on April 5, 2018.  Developed and presented by the Iroquois Indian Museum (Howes Cave, NY), the exhibit with accompanying special programs and activities runs through Nov 30, 2018. “Tonto, Teepees & Totem Poles” is a multi-faceted response to the cultural misconceptions surrounding Native American people that persist in North America today. 

Once the subject of literary fantasy and frontier adventure, Native people have long been cast in mythical caricature. While many of the damaging and degrading stereotypes of the 1940's and 50's about Native people have largely disappeared, new and equally distorted stereotypes have become increasingly prevalent.  Popular culture and the fashion, sports, and entertainment industries create and promote stereotypes both positive and negative.  Most are generated and perpetuated by non-natives, but ironically, these inaccurate generalizations have, and continue to be propagated within Indigenous communities as well. 

Through objects from the Iroquois Museum's collection, advertising, and film footage, the exhibit examines the origins and repercussions of these stereotypes.  These and other artifacts of popular culture frame First Nations individuals as noble warrior, indian princess, mystical shaman, exotic oddity or vestige of an all but vanished race.  The exhibit contrasts these stereotypes and misconceptions with Iroquois and other First Nations art created specifically in response to this complex and divisive issue.  From New Mexico, Wisconsin, New York, and Ontario these creative declarations offer a thoughtful, challenging, and at times humorous counterbalance to the exhibit’s narrative. 

Participants include artists Shelley Niro (Mohawk); Peter B. Jones (Onondaga), Marion Snow (Mohawk); Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota), Karen Ann Hoffman (Oneida), Frank Buffalo Hyde (Onondaga) & Courtney Leonard (Shinnecock); Eric Gansworth (Onondaga); Tom Huff (Seneca-Cayuga), Linley Logan (Seneca); Natasha Smoke Santiago (Mohawk) and others. Tonto, Teepees, & Totem Poles is supported in part by an Action Grant from Humanities New York.

About the Museum

The Iroquois Indian Museum (IIM) is an educational institution dedicated to fostering an understanding and appreciation for Iroquois/Haudenosaunee culture using Iroquois art as a window to that culture. Established in 1981, the IIM is a venue for promoting Iroquois art and artists and a setting for all peoples to celebrate and engage with Iroquois culture and diversity. 

Housed in a modern building architecturally and symbolically inspired by a longhouse, the IIM introduces the public to the rich complexities of Iroquois culture through thoughtful permanent and changing exhibitions; performances in a covered outdoor amphitheatre; two 19th C Iroquois log homes; interactive discovery area; school programs; performing and visual arts demonstrations, workshops; and festivals.

Submitted by Colette Lemmon, Curator of Exhibitions



The Museum Association of New York strengthens the capacity of New York State’s cultural community by supporting professional standards and organizational development. We provide advocacy, training, and networking opportunities so that museums and museum professionals may better serve their missions and communities.

Museum Association of New York is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. 

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