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Land in Native American Cultures

Oriented both by the Smithsonian's overall concern for the conservation of cultures and by global attention focused on the meaning of the Columbian Quincentenary, this program offered an opportunity to hear the voices of members of Native American societies that had persevered for 500 years and had maintained an ancient care for the earth and the continuity of their own cultures.

The program was about land, ecosystems, and cultural knowledge that sustained Native American cultures before Columbus and to the present day. Each culture represented has a vision of the cosmos and the world as a system of dynamic and interconnected processes. Research for the program examined how domestic, economic, and ceremonial processes are connected through material and expressive culture to form a social fabric of productivity and meaning. Agricultural and ritual cycles often coincide in Native American cultures and echo seasonal rhythms of the land.

Participants of the Quincentenary program came from 15 cultural groups in six different ecological areas, including northern and tropical rainforests, Andean highlands, Arizona desert, and Sierra Madre mountains and coastal dunes of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico. Participants demonstrated subsistence activities and craft skills, presented parts of ritual performances, and narrated oral histories. These cultural elements have been passed from generation to generation and speak eloquently of the connections Native Americans have constructed between land and society. Discussion sessions were devoted to some of the major issues confronting Native American cultures. These included: natural resource management, traditional technology, maintenance and destruction of ecological equilibrium and questions of monocultivation, property titles, national parks, transnational corporations, military zones, economic development models, agrarian reform laws, foreign debt, political repression, self determination, cultural identity, intrusion of religious sects, fragmentation of lands, and human rights.

Olivia Cadaval was Curator and Vivien T.Y. Chen was Program Coordinator. Regional Coordinators included Jose- Luis Krafft for Oaxaca, Mexico; Pilar Larreamendi de Moscoso, for Ecuador; Elisa Ramirez, for Oaxaca, Mexico; Oswaldo Rivera Sundt, for the Andes; and Beatriz Torres, for Chiapas, Mexico.

Land in Native American Cultures, co-sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian, was made possible with the support of the Inter-American Foundation; the U.S. Embassy of Bolivia; the Ruth Mott Fund; Sealaska Heritage Foundation; the Government of Chiapas, Mexico; lnstituto Nacional Indigenista of Mexico; Centro de Investigación y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social; the Hopi Tribal Council; and American Airlines of Quito, Ecuador. The program was an activity of the Smithsonian Quincentenary Programs. The Institution's Quincentennial commemoration of the voyages of Columbus to the Americas focused on the cultural, historical and scientific implications of the pan-Hemispheric encounter that would continue to be of global importance for centuries to come.

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