By ERIC ELDRITCH
The Library of Congress celebrated Native American Heritage Month in November with a number of special events, including a concert, film screening and display.
As part of its Homegrown concert series, the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress presented Carlos Nakai, who performed American Indian flute music from Arizona.
The Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcast and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) presented excerpts from the film series “Navajo Film Themselves.” The series was produced in 1965 through a National Science Foundation-funded project that provided Navajo youth in Arizona with 16-mm cameras and basic instruction. The goal was to see what these amateur films would capture and reveal about Navajo culture and visual language.
The Library recently acquired the raw footage (96 reels of 16 mm reversal film) of the seven films that comprise the series as a gift from the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania. The series was selected by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington to be added to the National Film Registry in 2002. The registry recognizes films that have cultural, historical or aesthetic significance and ensures their preservation for all time.
Kate Pourshariati, film archivist at the Penn Museum and Eunice Kahn (Diné), tribal archivist at the Navaho Nation Museum at Western New Mexico University, attended the event and made remarks. Kahn is related to two of the original filmmakers.
A “Showcase of Native American Items in the Library’s Collections” was the highlight of the month-long heritage celebration. Staff librarians and curators collaborated to select and interpret the items drawn from 15 custodial divisions of the Library.
MBRS displayed 78-rpm recordings produced on the Tom Tom label, one of the first record labels to publish recordings for Native Americans. MBRS also displayed recordings published by Canyon Records and Indian House.
The American Folklife Center presented a variety of rare items such as the first documentary field recordings of Passamaquoddy Indians in Maine, captured on wax cylinders in 1890.
The Geography and Map Division provided a number of items, including a 16th-century Aztec map used to resolve a land-dispute court case.
The Manuscript Division presented a dozen items, including “Winter Count 1230-1907,” a Native American mnemonic device passed from one generation to another marked with pictographs that recorded noteworthy events in tribal life that took place each “winter” or year.
Viewing the display, Eunice Kahn remarked, “I could never have imagined that my invitation to the Library of Congress would lead me to see such astounding collections and make important connections.”
“Today’s event will surely heighten interest in the Library’s Native American collections,” said the Librarian of Congress. “The research possibilities are endless.”
Eric Eldritch is the Library’s access program manager in the Office of Opportunity, Inclusiveness and Compliance.