A tipi sat outside the Daniel Boone Regional Library on a mid-September afternoon to teach people some valuable lessons about Native American identity. KBIA’s Betsy Smith has more on how one interdisciplinary artist tested people’s knowledge of what it means to be an Indian today. When it comes to modern representations of native culture, everything might not be what it seems.
Sydney Pursel doesn’t look like Pocahontas, and the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska member struggled with her identity when she was younger because of this. Now, Pursel uses art to explore Native American representation and identity in modern culture.
Pursel’s interactive tipi exhibit is part of the Daniel Boone Regional Library’s One Read Program. This year, the community voted to read “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” a book that explores Native American history in Missouri.
Lauren Williams is a co-chair of the One Read Program. “[The tipi] is a way to invite people to have a dialogue about stereotypes and authenticity and identity,” she says.
Pursel’s tipi has traveled all across America to teach people about true Native American culture.
“You set up a tipi in a park, and people just flock to you,” Pursel says. “Then you can have civil discussions.”
Pursel’s tipi is filled with authentic and fake Indian items, ranging from bells worn on the ankles of male dancers and dream catchers to moccasins and martini glasses. Pursel says she invites people inside the tipi, and then she asks them to identify the authentic items. Afterwards, she usually has a conversation with participants about the misrepresentations in society.
“It’s a very complicated issue—representation and identity—and it can’t be solved overnight,” Pursel says. But she hopes her travelling tipi is a good place to start.