Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities

Our Lives is about who we are today.

Native Peoples are everywhere in the Americas. We number in the tens of millions. We speak hundreds of languages. We live in the hemesphers's remotest places and its biggest cities.

We are still here.

We are not just survivors; we are the architects of our survivance. We carry our ancient philosphies into an ever changing modern world.

We work hard to remain native in circumstances that sometimes challenge or threaten our survival. Our Lives is about our stories of survivance, but it belongs to anyone who has fought extermination, discrimination, or stereotypes.

Jolene Rickard, guest curator
Cynthia L. Chavez, NMAI curator
Gabrielle Tayac, NMAI curator, 2004

Our Lives reveals how residents of eight Native communities—the Campo Band of Kumeyaay Indians (California, USA), the urban Indian community of Chicago (Illinois, USA), Yakama Nation (Washington State, USA), Igloolik (Nunavut, Canada), Kahnawake (Quebec, Canada), Saint-Laurent Metis (Manitoba, Canada), Kalinago (Carib Territory, Dominica), and the Pamunkey Tribe (Virginia, USA)—live in the 21st century. Through their stories, visitors learn about the deliberate and often difficult choices indigenous people make in order to survive economically, save their languages from extinction, preserve their cultural integrity, and keep their traditional arts alive.

The main section of Our Lives centers on various layers of identity. For Native people, identity—who you are, how you dress, what you think, where you fit in, and how you see yourself in the world—has been shaped by language, place, community membership, social and political consciousness, and customs and beliefs. But Native identity has also been influenced by a legacy of legal policies that have sought to determine who is Indian and who is not. The issue of Native identity continues to resonate today, as Native people across the Americas seek to claim the future on their own terms.

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