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This is The Library Channel.
Welcome to the Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center Lecture on
Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community.
Presenting Phantasmagoria with James Luna, sponsored by the
American Indian Studies Program, the Department of
English, the American Indian Policy Institute, the School
of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the
Arts, the Labriola National American Indian Data Center,
the Faculty of History in the School of Historical,
Philosophical, and Religious Studies, Women and Gender
Studies in the School of Social Transformation, the
Indian Legal Program in the Sandra Day O'Connor College of
Law, and the Heard Museum.
[SPEAKING NATIVE LANGUAGE]
How's everybody this evening?
In the language of the Acoma people, that's a greeting
asking how you are.
Because we all want to be well, we all want to be
nourished, we all want to be aware of ourselves in relation
to others, each other.
And it's wonderful to have this sense of community, which
is what such a gathering as tonight means.
I'm from Haak'oh, as Miss Murphy said, Acoma Pueblo,
which is in New Mexico.
I've been at ASU for six years as a professor.
I'm a Regents' Professor.
And I have coordinated this Simon Ortiz and Labriola
Center lecture on indigenous land, culture, and community
for the past six years.
And so I welcome all of you.
And of course, I welcome, by introduction, the artist and
performer and installation wiz to you.
James Luna is from the La Jolla Indian Reservation in
North County in San Diego, California, with over 30 years
of exhibition and performance experience.
James Luna has given voice to Native American cultural
issues, and he has pursued innovative and versatile media
within his disciplines.
And he has charted waters for others to follow.
And I think that tonight you will get a very good sample of
that powerful message.
He has presented and performed since 1975 in so many shows--
I will just mention a few--
that include the Museum of Modern Art in New York City,
the Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Art, San
Francisco Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art in
San Diego, and Los Angeles County Museum, and the Museum
of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is
part of the Institute of American Indian Arts.
And also, very importantly, James wanted me to mention
also that he received an honorary doctorate from the
Institute of American Indian Arts, IAIA, which of course is
the premier institute for Native
Americans art of all kinds.
And he is quite worldly well known.
And to give you a sample, or to give you one of those well
known occasions was that he was recently--
or, well, it's not long ago, 2005--
at the Venice Biennale, at the 51st International Art
Exhibition in Venice, Italy.
And he was the sponsored artist at the Smithsonian's
National Museum of the American Indian, which is the
primary museum that represents and presents indigenous
American works from the Americas, meaning North,
Central, and South America.
I want to say one quick thing about James is that he is
really a voice for the indigenous artistic presence
of the Americas.
And that means that the foundation of all knowledge--
because knowledge, like literature, is represented
through the arts.
And so arts really is the foundation of all that we know
to be art in the American world.
[SPEAKING NATIVE LANGUAGE]
Because through art and the knowledge that comes from it,
that is how we know ourselves.
So this evening's Phantasmagoria, which is the
name of this lecture, a performative lecture by Mr.
Luna, is very much an expression of that knowledge.
So without any further ado, I'm going to go and get Mr.
Luna, who's in his green room, which is really the kitchen.
I'll knock on the kitchen door, and he will come.
-I'm expected at the theater.
-You got any ID?
-I know who I am.
-I don't know who you are.
-Who are you kidding, man?
They call me Luna.
I am from a place they call California.
-Do they have passports in California?
-I am an indigenous man of the Pacific Rim.
This is our land.
You're the one that needs a passport.
You want a passport?
There's my passport.
This is my medicine.
-Look, you've got to come with me.
[END AUDIO PLAYBACK]
You call this a theater?
Looks like a union hall.
Let's hear it for the coat.
Well, we'll make it do.
We Indians are always making it do.
May I quote a local hero of all of us, Mr. Alice Cooper?
Welcome to my nightmare.
Phantasmagoria is a survey of performance and exhibitions
throughout my 30 year career--
some old stuff, some new stuff, maybe some stuff I just
might try out.
I found it's a good way to explain what I do.
I've been at this a long time.
And it occurred to me that performance isn't something
that you talk about.
It's something you do.
The visuals talk for themselves.
What you had seen, the entrance, was the entrance I
made to the Te Papa Museum, the Maori Museum in
Wellington, New Zealand.
Those were the horns of the Maori people welcoming.
I was on my way to the theater for an eight hour performance
called Urban Rituals.
Let me share this with you here.
I almost didn't make it here tonight.
I was stopped three times by the police coming here.
I was stopped for the crime of looking like a Mexican.
They asked for my ID.
I gave them my tribal ID.
They said, I want to see your ID.
I didn't pull out my tobacco bag.
I gave him my license.
And the last cop, as he left, or was getting into his car, I
turned to him.
I said, I want you to know, or maybe something that you
should consider, that many of those Mexican people that you
don't want around here are tribal people from Mexico.
So let's call them illegal Indians.
I was there on a two week site visit.
What a wonderful place to be.
This is one of the perks of being an artist is to travel,
to travel this great country that we call Turtle Island,
America, Americas, actually.
And to experience tribal America for me, and small
town, rural America.
Such beauty and contrast and the many cultures that make up
But there's a bigger indigenous world out there in
traveling that I'm discovering.
And if there's anything I am, it's a big fan
of indigenous cultures.
But I'm also a big fan of pop culture, American pop culture.
Because you see, I was born in 1950.
I was born not in a tee-pee.
I was born in the TV.
I went there on that site visit, and what a wonderful,
And to meet those Maori people and the way they do things,
like we do things.
There is structure.
There is protocol.
I know when I went to some of their doings, they
did that for me.
It was just amazing.
But I was there to see the culture, the country, and to
speak to it in whatever form that I wanted to do in a 24
hour span of time.
And I decided that in this eight hour span of time, that
I would take the stage at the Te Papa Museum,
center stage, have you.
And I would recreate this design that I kept seeing
repeated all over.
And it was a swirl.
And I thought, you know, there's many indigenous tribes
here that have the swirl.
You see it on petroglyphs.
You see it on ponies.
And the meaning is similar about the cycle of life, about
wind and natural phenomenon.
So I thought, this will bring us together.
And that in the middle of the stage, that I would recreate
But I would use materials that I found akin to
us as tribal people.
Because they are the only people outside North and South
America that have potatoes and corn.
So I took slices of corn, or slices of potatoes, handfuls
of corn, bottle caps, candy, other various tourist
paraphernalia, and started to make this swirl.
And this swirl, though, was being documented from a camera
up above that was shot and broadcast worldwide.
It was a worldwide ritual.
My assistant helped me, guarded my back.
There's conservatives over there, also.
I invited artists from the community to participate, not
just Maori artists, but artists.
Because that is a brotherhood, that is a tribe.
These are two young women.
As we were starting the beginning of the swirl, they
were making a baby out of mud.
And when they finished, they had this
wonderful little child.
And they were all dirty, full of red clay.
There was a Bhutto group.
And there was a dude from San Diego, a Chicano guy, Franco,
It was cool.
I said, how are you surviving way down
here without tortillas?
He said, I have them shipped in.
There was a volunteer from the museum.
She recited, with visuals, the history of Western
civilization in art in 15 minutes.
A little long, I thought.
An illegal alien.
They got them there, too.
There was various things happening, more than I can
show in the amount of time I have.
But we finished the show with this wonderful woman that I
saw on Treaty Day at the park.
Treaty Day, like the indigenous 4th of July, where
all these nations came together from all these little
islands that I never heard of.
And they presented their music and dance.
And the wonderful thing about them, just like us, they all
But they all look similar.
Except for her, Elaina.
And she played this wonderful fiddle with a classical choir
along with indigenous music.
And I said, I have to have you.
And we closed the show when the swirl was completed, and I
danced full circle around it.
And invited the audience to come and take it away.
Don't let that man scare you.
He's a good spirit.
I was trained as a conceptual artist.
This is what I am first.
I talk about a lot of things.
I try to be truthful.
I read history.
I ask questions.
But as an artist, I pose questions.
I don't have answers to everything, but
that's not my job.
Hopefully if I do my job, and you're interested in some of
the things I'm saying, that you'll go out, and
you'll find out more.
That's when I've succeeded.
But there are some things that I don't talk about.
Well, I talk about them, but very reluctantly.
Because they're special things.
They're things dealing with spirituality.
Because I don't want to come off as an expert.
But as a fan of native culture, I
just can't help myself.
I want to share these things with you, because they're so
wonderful, so simple, but yet so complex.
Where I live at the La Jolla Indian Reservation, there's
remnants, there's gifts that our forefathers have left us.
They left us grinding stones and arrowheads and
I think of them as gifts.
But we have different beliefs about that.
I've been told, leave them alone.
But I know that they may be destroyed or taken.
And I thought about it.
And I thought, you know, I am not finding them.
They're finding me.
So I take those rocks home, and I put them
in a place of honor.
I wash them off and take care of them.
What will happen to them?
I don't know.
But I don't own them.
They're just in my care.
But the wonderful thing about them is that they all belong
to an individual.
Because they all fit in your hand, whatever size
hand you may be.
And I think about the ladies.
Because it was primarily a woman's tool for grinding.
And I think about them sitting on those bedrock mortars,
singing, laughing, talking in Indian and singing songs,
probably telling dirty jokes.
That's part of our culture.
And I hear that in those rocks.
I feel that in those special places.
And I wanted to talk to you about that.
And so I created this piece, uno mas,
called Talking Stones.
I took four of these rocks, had them,
again, cast in resin.
And they still maintain the grainy quality of it, yet that
same smooth side was rubbed against the rocks.
And I made them clear.
Because what I wanted them to do was speak to you.
So they sit on these pedestals.
And underneath the pedestals are videos.
They don't really have meaning.
But they go with the sound that's above you, next, on the
So that when you go to this pedestal and that rock's
talking to you, it's only talking to you.
It's all symbolic.
And you look at it, it will be a rock that's glowing, and you
hear *** music.
You go to another rock, and it's a fire.
And you hear something related to fire.
There's one with the ocean and the waves coming back and
forth, and the sound is of the ocean being on the shore.
I've been on a journey.
That's how I consider my work, a journey.
And that maybe there was a time in my life that I didn't
think I would be here.
But I understood that when I began making art that it did
something for me.
It gave me voice, and it released a lot of that anger
that I had with me, and that I constructively used it.
There's been some ups and downs in my life.
But that's OK.
But there's been times when I really wasn't quite clear of
not what I do, but why I do it, and how I do it.
And people have asked me sometimes, well, how do you
think of those things?
And I thought long and hard about it.
And I come to terms that it's a gift.
Not just mine alone, but that all artists possess that,
whether they be a writer, a dancer, a singer, that we have
been given this gift.
But the true gift of an artist is to make something
from what you see.
Because we hear and see things that nobody else hears.
They may be mundane.
They may be everyday occurrences.
But we see something special in them.
And He's done that for us.
I was thinking about that.
And there's only been a couple times that it's been
explained to me.
And one was in Minnesota.
I had a group show that I was in.
And I performed.
And I had even a funkier dressing room than this
kitchen I'm in back there.
There was a curtain.
And I felt good.
I felt good after I performed.
And I went to my lowly dressing room.
And I was feeling emotional.
That's when I know that I may have touched somebody.
Anyway, this curtain pulls back.
And it was a Southwest Indian, short and dark, peeked in.
And I looked up.
I didn't know who he was.
You're a clown.
That was Victor Masayesva.
He is quite a guy.
Like we say up the hill, he's a real guy, not only as an
artist, but as a gentleman.
And he's an intellectual.
And when he said that, I knew
immediately what he was saying.
But when I learned out who he was and that he was Hopi, that
really was the ultimate compliment.
This happened several years ago, not too long ago.
And I was up in Juneau, Alaska for a wonderful thing called
Celebration, where Sealaska, the corporation for the
coastal tribes puts together big doings for all these
tribes up and down the coast and inland.
So that they kind of refresh their cultural ways, and come
together and share.
What a wonderful way to use your tribal monies, to spend
it on culture.
At Celebration, at Celebration, the grand entry
took six hours.
They came in singing the same song, wearing the capes,
wearing the mask.
But they also had workshops.
And there was a workshop by a carver, the great artist, the
elder, Robert Davidson.
And this is another time that I heard something that spoke
to me, that explained to me what I do and what I become
certain times, when this becomes very special, when I'm
not up here anymore.
There's somebody else.
He said, when we dance, when we dance,
we don't wear costumes.
We wear regalia.
We wear our capes and our masks.
And when we dance, we don't pretend to become animals, the
four legged, the whales, the ravens.
He said, when we dance, he said, we become them.
I said, [NATIVE LANGUAGE]
Because there's been moments when I felt when I'm working,
and things are going good, the magic is there,
that I become that.
So I went home, and I thought about that.
And I created a piece, We Become Them.
I know you were dying to do that.
Chapel of the Sacred Colors.
You know, I think one of the greatest things about Indian
people, about Indian culture is our sense of humor.
Pretty sideways, pretty deep, pretty quick,
pretty smart stuff.
We laugh about a lot of things.
We laughed about ourselves.
But also, it's a part of survival, about making do.
It's about laughing at the hard times and the pain that's
just there, below the surface.
But if you can make light of it, then you can get past it.
It doesn't solve anything, but it makes it tolerable.
And if you're a non-Indian and you get around the boys, the
chiefs, and the ladies, too, well, there's a couple
ways it could go.
One is you ask too damn many questions right off the bat.
Then you're bait.
You're dead meat.
You'll get hell.
But people will listen to you and kind of check you out.
And there'll be a moment there where you're dead meat anyway.
And they'll start kidding you, and you're
part of that circle.
But that's because we love you.
So I thought somewhere if I was going to talk about the
native experience that I would share some humorous things
about how we look at the world.
And yet there are serious kinds of things, as well.
And I found that it was a great, well, just what it is.
It's a great medicine.
It's a great medicine to talk about more painful things.
So I've done various works on this.
But I kind of like this one, The Chapel
of the Sacred Colors.
Being an artist, at least for me, means taking a risk.
And make taking risks about what you talk about, things
you show, like the spirituality thing.
That's taking a risk.
That's something that maybe people say, oh, you
shouldn't do that.
But at the same time, it's how you talk about it, about
respect first, and about just stopping at the right place,
and not going where you're not supposed to go with it.
But I'm a guy that likes play on words and
things that are literary.
So there's been performances named after albums and other
things, like bringing it all home, when I performed on my
reservation, about an early performance called the Red
Album after the Beatles' White Album.
So I'm in my studio.
And I have these fittings out.
I'm going to fix something.
And I look over, and they look like a pipe that's been
disassembled, a pipe that you pray with, a Southern or
Plains Indian pipe, a chalupa, as they say.
We have a pipe, but it doesn't look anything like those.
But it's used for the same purpose, to pray.
And as we Indians say, not to pray to him,
but to speak to him.
And that's the purpose of the smoke.
So I saw that pieces and I put it together,
and there I had it.
It was a Plains Indian pipe.
I thought, OK, we got something going here,
And then later on I thought, well, I could make it a little
And I had it beaded.
Then it became a work of art.
So I was looking for a way to display it.
And I'm in a junk store, looking for mannequin hands.
Because this is the way you hold a pipe,
or one of the ways.
This is how you present it.
And I couldn't find hands.
But I looked over, and there was that red phone.
And I said, [NATIVE LANGUAGE].
Because it sort of seemed to come together.
Because I was toying with the idea that I would call this a
high tech peace pipe.
And there it is on the phone.
And it has that quality of speaking.
So it's a total package.
But I also took that pipe and used it in a
ritual that I did.
I came to understand that it's easy for me to talk about
certain things in an artistic way rather than just get up
and try to be serious.
And that if people ask me to do something, I'll turn it
into a performance.
And I was asked to be a speaker at my nephew's
graduation at Sherman Indian High School.
And I thought about that.
And I thought, what an honor.
What an honor.
These are some of the perks that you get as an artist.
So I did my pipe ritual.
Because I understood that these young students would go
out to the world.
They'd be leaving the womb of the school.
No matter how much they say they didn't like it, there was
It was safe.
But now, they were going to go out there as individuals.
They wouldn't have each other to lean on.
They wouldn't have that camaraderie.
They may have been like me when I was in the University
of California when I first started, one of six Indian
students out of 9,000 students, and
about how that feels.
And I think many of our students still feel that way,
especially when you come from the rez.
So I talked about that while I was making the pipe.
And I made up this story about the future
while I was doing that.
Because I saw it in there, to talk about the pipe and maybe
how some of us Indians don't take it serious and understand
the power of that.
And I see them for sale.
They might have some for sale here.
They were never meant to be for sale.
You earn them, and someone gives it to you.
And then when you get a pipe, you become a pipe carrier, and
the responsibility that carries, that goes with it.
So there's a lot to it.
But I see them for sale.
I see them on people's mantels and coffee tables.
God knows what else they do with them.
But we sell them as works of art.
So as a clown, I bring these things up.
And I talked about it while I was making that pipe, about
how in the future after the big one, there was no more
Because we had sold it for people's mantels and coffee
tables and for trinkets.
We were as guilty as anybody else in this enterprise.
And all we had left after the big one were these pipes.
Let me speak to the big one.
In the future, after the big one, when the president picks
up that phone and calls for the rockets, calls for the
bombs, and they're doing it in another country.
And at the end of it, nobody wins.
Because the world is annihilated.
And ironically in the future, after the big one, the people
that survived were indigenous people.
Because we know how to live off the land.
We knew how to find water.
We knew what precious plants that were left, how to make
food from it.
But not to worry.
There was a non-Indian culture running around out there.
You ever see that movie Mad Max?
These people got it together, as primitive as they were.
They used to dig up the ruins of markets.
And because they come from a business background, so to
speak, an economic based culture, they found gold.
They found monetary goods in this.
And their new goal became cans of Spam there were revered as
more than gold.
And they weren't that heathen, either.
Because they got a higher power.
Some deity to believe in.
His name was John Denver.
Anyway, at the conclusion of this ritual I did for these
high school students, I said, so this is how we make do.
We've always had to make do with what was left for us.
After they took our lands and took our grounds and took our
culture, we pieced it together and survived.
And that's why we're here today.
And that's what you will have to do as students, as
individuals, as people going back out to the world.
So I had this pipe.
And I decided that I would build an insulation around it,
because it called for it.
And again, about how you say things and what you say, that
I decided that I would build a religion around this pipe.
But I was careful not to say church or religion.
But I created a place to meet, and it was called the Chapel
of the Sacred Colors.
Because after all, there are plenty of
chapels in Las Vegas.
The Altar of the Sacred Colors.
With the people of the sacred colors from the first peoples
of the world, as talk to us about the meanings of the
sacred colors of red, yellow, black, and white.
And like other churches, vestments, symbols, saints,
the dream hat ritual as part of the dream hat ritual
regalia, the electric mixer to mix the potions.
Hey, we got to move on in technology.
The electrical rattle.
You see this handle of the rattle is battery operated.
And it has speeds.
So really, once you insert it in your rattle, you
can dance all night.
The hot medicine bag.
So I presented this first in the University of
And there was seating.
And it was surrounded by curtains of the sacred colors.
And there was ambiance, ambiance of Miles Davis, Jack
Kerouac reciting his poetry, and Tibetan music.
And in the middle of that university, it was a place to
come and relax and contemplate.
The Wet Dream Catcher.
I told someone that I'm serious, I'm a serious matter.
Well, that's neither here nor there.
But I sometimes try to not be so serious.
But I sometimes just can't help but going there.
It's both a double edged sword.
But I'd gotten back from Venice, and I wanted to do a
fun work, and something that was close to me.
And I mentioned being a fan of American pop culture.
And that prior to leaving for Venice, sometime during that
year, I had had a gig in Cleveland, Leveland as they
say in Cleveland.
And attended the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
All my heroes were there--
Elvis, Jerry Garcia's guitar, Janis Joplin's porch,
handwritten notes by Johnny Cash, a little puny suit that
Mick Jagger wore next to Big Joe Turner, Big Joe Turner.
So you got a kind of sense of them as real people, people
with a gift.
But I did feel a little empty.
Because I realized, like so many times when I attend
things like a Contemporary Art Museum, I always ask myself,
where are the Indians?
And I know we're there, maybe.
And if we're not there, dammit, we should be.
So I decided I would do this museum to myself.
Because I can.
And that I would come up with my musical history.
And that I would share it with you, my various ups and downs,
my periods of both greatness and depletion.
Maestro, let's start out with that video.
Johnny Pine, he say.
We got it all right here.
I knew what he meant.
[ROCK MUSIC IN BACKGROUND]
Home on the rez.
That's right, being with each other, right here.
Come on, Ted!
Get down, bro!
Ted [? Nelson ?], La Jolla Reservation.
Play some of that good Indian music that we like to hear at
We like that.
That ain't fighting.
That's right, right here.
We all work, most of us.
The only people that understand.
Right here, we've got it all right here.
[INAUDIBLE], Rincon Reservation,
my lead guitar man.
Play it dirty, Harold.
Slap that ***.
That *** is his guitar, by the way.
The sacred guitar ceremony is about to begin.
You've been warned.
Take me home, Harold.
Pass the hat around.
I told you I was a fan.
Music is good medicine.
And it's also another way to get more
stories across, I found.
And I've been fortunate to travel different places, and
sometimes travel with musicians.
And they gather, and we jam.
There are photos or videos from various places, Essex,
England, Minnesota, La Jolla Reservation.
All Indian All the Time Museum.
You walk in and you see my album cover.
Next to it, my all Indian jacket all the time, so you
get a sense of reality, my stature.
And the album advertises my two great hits that I had
during the early '60s, "Damn It, Why Can't I Be Rich
Instead of So Damn Good Looking," and "Everything's
Gone to Hell and Back."
The Electric Guitar War Pony, uno mas, which sits over an
eternal flame flanked by me and Jimmy.
In later years, sharing the wealth with Bruce.
About the lounge period, something I'm not exactly
proud of, but a man has to make a living.
But I came back in '87.
And we got rediscovered.
About my hippie days, and about the future and the new
direction, the end of acoustic.
It's not what you say.
It's how you say it.
A little about the art craft, about less is more, about
knowing when to stop, about the connection between
insulation and performance and painting.
Once a painter, always a painter.
That's what my grandma said about Catholics.
Once a Catholic, always a *** Catholic.
So I go back and forth between both mediums, because I see
them one and the same.
And any way that I can work to make the work say
what I want to say.
And sometimes, it's spontaneous, and sometimes,
some of these works take years.
This one was spontaneous.
We Talk, You Listen.
I was invited to do a group show in Illinois State Museum.
And I happened to be close by, so I got to go over there and
do a site visit.
And it wasn't the most uplifting event.
The group show was going to commemorates the 1927 burning
down of the black-- no, it was before that-- no, '27--
of the black neighborhood in Illinois, in Springfield, over
an incident that was never proven to happen.
But it was good enough cause to hang a few blacks and burn
down their middle class neighborhood
in the land of Lincoln.
And the show was about not forgetting.
And in ways, we're still living some of those things.
So I'm in there, and I'm walking around.
And there's a sign that says something to the effect about
the Illinois Indians.
So I walk in there, and there are my brothers and sisters.
Man, man, come on.
That is the problem.
That is one of the problems.
Because we are not, or should not be considered a culture
that cannot grow.
That people see us as something that died off at the
turn of the century, or doesn't really exist because
we don't look like those dummies.
So I wanted to do an exhibit.
They turned it down because I was going
to be in the dioramas.
So I thought about it.
But I thought, OK, leave it as it is.
Because it's going to speak for itself.
But before they go in there, before this museum crowd goes
in there, because I've done other museum work before, I
would greet them.
And I greet them in my high tech war shirts along with a
video, Face, that said something to this effect.
How, how, how.
How in the hell are you?
Well, want you to come in here.
But I want you to know some things about what
you're about to see.
That there are still native people
from Illinois in Illinois.
And that we're seeking recognition, seeking our
remnants of our land back.
But we've managed to survive all these yours without being
federally recognized and have those gifts of what it means
to have a treaty.
But we're here.
And in our biggest cities like Chicago, there are Indian
people from all over America that had come there in the
'60s during relocation to prosper.
And they stayed.
And there's communities out there that no one counted on
when they started these programs, and they're called
They're Indians that have roots, but Indians that are
now in the city.
And they're creating another tribe called Urban Indians.
And they gather together on weekends, and they share their
songs and their dances at these powwows that are going
on in cities throughout the state every weekend.
I send my kids to schools just with your kids.
You may not know it.
And they're sitting there learning all the things your
kids learn, and all the things they're not learning about
what it is to be an American Indian in
And when I get hungry for corn, I don't go
out and grind it.
I drive down to the 7-Eleven, just like you.
Just like you.
So I just thought I would share a few things with you
before you enter the land of the Indians.
Have a nice day.
So I had ventured out to this place before, about
challenging at the source of the native experience as I saw
that, about the first things that people see of us, if it
isn't TV and distorted history as us as villains.
And by the way, we're not the only ethnic villains that I
grew up with.
And about the books and the history of us as part of this
country, all four pages of it in your history book.
Let me say this.
The issue is not dead about representation.
And I will not rest on this issue.
Because I have a great fear about that *** up reading
that you got here in the state that someday Simon Ortiz is
going to be about it, and our children and you will not be
able to read has books.
And I'll remind you, so that we can get Sherman Alexie and
Leslie Silko back on the reading list so that
you can hear us.
So I confronted this issue in 1987.
The Sushi Gallery in San Diego, a wonderful beacon of
culture, a performance center on the West Coast, put out an
invitation for people to submit a proposal to do art in
a public place.
And I have these notes.
I have these notes about an Indian exhibit of a
contemporary native man on exhibit, about these artifacts
from someone like me, born in this decade, or not this
decade, whatever you call it, 1950.
And about all the things that I experienced not only as a
native man, but as part of the society.
That I would share things that would spell true things that
you read or read into when they put labels on things like
they used to in circa 18 whatever.
Because you tend to believe that it's all over.
So that I would share myself and my objects.
But unlike those other objects in other museums, you see,
there would be no dates.
Because I want you to understand these are real
You can see the dirt on the feathers.
You can see my bag, but I won't reveal to
you what's in there.
You can see my rattle, and you can see that it's been used.
But there will be no labels.
Because I want you to understand that these are
still in use.
And as a performance artist, it wasn't something that I
thought of right away.
But after I started building the exhibit with my personal
artifacts, I realized there was something missing, and it
was the artifact.
That I would become an artifact, I would become an
object in this exhibit and be on display for you to see.
For the Saturday crowd that came to the Museum of Man in
San Diego to see the bones of us, to see our mummified
babies, to see our culture from the past and go home
feeling good, that for several hours I would lay in state
And you would see a real Indian.
And that I would up the ante a little bit.
Because there's cards in the sand or framed prose that talk
about the scars on my body done during alcoholic bouts
About being motionless, about speaking loud without moving,
about understanding really what pacifism is about, just
by being there.
I didn't know all this.
I learned this in the two exhibits that I've done of
this show, in '87 and again in '91 in New York City.
That it, well, I'd probably ruin the day for some people.
So be it.
And for other people, I began to touch on something that I
try to do in my work, or at least that I can do, which is
for you to come see an exhibit by James Luna or a performance
by me, and leave and perhaps reconsider some notions that
you had about native people.
Or that you would take the time by being excited about
what you saw or heard and research and learn more.
That is my job.
That's my yob.
My medicine objects, my personal objects that spoke to
a man born in 1950.
This is a facsimile of a bigger cabin that had more of
my crap in it.
About my cassettes that I listen to.
There wasn't a flute one in there.
That's not my forte.
It was about country and western, George Jones.
It was about blues.
It was about Miles Davis.
It was about reading Charles Bukowski,
and toys that I collect.
It was about my graduation picture.
It was about my arrest record.
It was about pictures with my father from another culture.
It was just me.
And I got another ultimate compliment from a big white
guy that was there, who came by after I greeted the
audience, after I'd been released.
And he said, hey dude, man, that's me, except for that
And I felt so good about that.
Man, that was me.
My medicine objects, I told you about them.
And it became a solemn event for people.
This is a first, well, one of the first public confrontation
works I did.
And a couple followed after that, but it's hard work.
There's a certain--
no, there's not a certain, there is a vulnerability about
doing that, and going out to the general public.
And when I recreated this piece and had been invited to
present it as part of the decade show, important work of
the '90s, that I didn't think it'd work in New York.
But it did.
Because it was about the power of what I was saying, not
about the power of James Luna, but the power
of the subject matter.
My mom wouldn't come to the exhibit because she perceived
it as a funeral.
And she may have been right.
At a given time when I couldn't stand it any longer,
which happened on both events--
because it's hard laying there still.
It's hard blocking out the feelings that you have and the
feelings that you can feel people have by looking at you.
But all your imperfections, like my fungus toes, my scars
and those stories, about being on display, the physicality of
My nipples were like pencil erasers.
I was full of goosebumps.
But most of all, I had an out of body experience.
I felt my spirit flipping in the air.
And then I became angry.
I became angry.
And I tell people this today.
When I motioned people, my handlers to come get me, I'd
We pushed the sand against my body and sprayed it with water
And then when I got off that table, I felt like ***
But most of all, it was a sadness that went
over me like a blanket.
And it was about all the other Indians lying in museums that
couldn't go home.
Oh, there's so much work to do.
I forgot, maybe it was '90.
I was in the '90s and I was standing at
the fence on my property.
I live in a very beautiful place.
I'm 2,500 feet up on the side of Mount Palomar, and I can
see the ocean.
It's my reservation shack with an ocean view.
And I remember standing there looking and thinking about
what I was doing, and maybe a little distance from the
political work I was doing.
Because it seemed to lack something.
It seemed to lack cause and effect.
It seemed to lack emotion other than anger.
And that the Indian experience was deeper than that.
That I decided that I would do work that was more personal,
stuff that was going on in here, in my family, in my
relationships, in the community and other
About including my other part of what it means to be an
American Indian, about being born in 1950 and experiencing
all of these wonderful things about technology, music, and
art that happened in that brief amount of time
from 1950 to 2013.
That's when my work became whole.
But there's other subject matter out there as well that
I think it's important for me to tell.
For me to tell so that you understand us better.
And I got asked to represent our museum, the National
Museum of the American Indian, during their opening year, to
represent us at the Venice Biennale.
It'd had been nice to be asked by the Guggenheim.
But it was much better to be asked by our museum.
And I thought long and hard about it.
Because I didn't have much time.
But I dove into it with a vengeance, about wanting to
talk about something that I thought was important,
something that would cross borders, something that would
cross the ocean.
And I came across this story of a Payomkawichum man from
Oceanside, California at the turn of the century.
Because our people were from the mountains to the coast.
And those people that live next to the San Luis Rey
mission were the forerunners of all of us, as
far as being labeled.
Because they named them Luisenos after the mission,
because they couldn't say Payomkawichum or other
derivatives of that for the different bands that we have
as Payomkawichum people.
After all, we're only Indians.
And he went to the mission school there, and he excelled.
He excelled in his education so much that he
was a shining star.
And he was selected and he accepted an invitation to
attend a worldwide ministry in Rome, an indigenous worldwide
ministry where they would go there as indigenous people,
learn the ways of the Catholic Church, and at some point in
time, go back as missionaries to their peoples.
But I believe, and this is where we the art part comes
in, my fantasy is that he went there.
And can you imagine?
And I could imagine, because this is how I felt when I
first went to Europe and I crossed those waters, to see
the grandeur of Europe.
But at that time, Rome was a world center.
It was like going to New York.
And all these various cultures and merchants and all this
activity going there, and the power, the power
that was part of it.
And that he perhaps may have felt that our little tribe, a
tribe of hunters and gatherers, un-war-like,
weren't going to make it.
And that he saw the power of the written word.
And along with mastering Italian, Spanish, and Latin,
he began to put our language into vowels and alphabet, with
my theory that this would be a way to preserve our culture.
And he wrote stories, simple little stories
about why we dance.
And it was innuendos, and he called it the wolf, about the
Spanish culture and the dominance.
And in all those writings, even though he was in a
Catholic church, a Catholic pupil, he
never mentioned Jesus.
He used our name for God.
So I thought this was important.
I thought if people knew about this, we could be part of that
history book, not just the four or five pages of us as
hunters and gatherers.
And that if students learned about this, adults learned
about this, they would see us more than spear chuckers.
And that we would become linguists in their eyes.
So this exhibit was all about Pablo Tac.
It was all about him and maybe not in a direct way, but
alluding to aspects of history, about truth is I see
it, about sharing some knowledge that you may not
know about, us as California native people.
The name Emendatio comes from, that's Italian for emanation,
which is clarifying history, making true.
They came with me to that title.
They said, emanation.
I said, what the hell is that?
They said, well, they told me what it meant.
And they said in Italian, it's emendatio.
I said I like that.
So you walk into this palace, this Italian palace.
And I'm on the water level of the canal.
I have the bottom floor.
And from the minute on my first site visit there, I knew
this was going to be a problem.
Because I couldn't touch the walls.
I couldn't screw into the floor.
Everything had to be falsified.
But I got into it because I thought, you know what?
As I started to do research and venture out and really
look at the San Diego Mission, and really look at the San
Luis Rey Mission, they're all phony as hell, anyway.
They're only a facade of what they were.
They were rebuilt in their eyes of what a mission was
supposed to look like.
The only thing they didn't change, they should've, was
that mass grave in San Diego that has one little sign
about, here lies the Indians.
And I took that to heart.
And I also felt that when I went to Italy for the first
time, I thought, man, I'm in Southern California--
all these tiled roofs and the missions and the cathedrals
and the architecture.
So I thought, this is good.
Because if I do this right, people will understand this,
about Catholicism, about acculturation, et cetera.
So you walk in.
The first thing you're confronted with was this
Indian blanket where there appears to be someone dancing.
You can't really make it out, and that was the point.
Because I wanted people to go full circle, which I'll come
to you at the conclusion of this.
You walk into another room.
Again, and there was this wonderful portrait I found in
a junkyard in Escondido.
And someone said, this may be Pablo Tac.
So I presented it as Pablo Tac.
Nice looking man.
A room with veils, with projection.
Thank you, Bill Viola.
I ripped that off.
But for me, what those veils represented
were pages of history.
And what I was talking about was turn of the century
Again, about that belief and acceptance that all
photographs of Indians, they've got to be real.
And of course, many of us know the story of Curtis, Edward
Curtis, his beautiful photos.
And they are beautiful.
But they're as phony as hell.
They're as phony as the San Diego Mission.
So be it.
And that was the intent.
And that I would show photos of natives
from the turn of century.
But I love these photos of us taken in our area.
Because they were asked to put on a headrest or a wig.
And there's this wonderful picture of the Indians up the
hill from us, the Ipai, my grandpa's people.
Mesa Grande reservation, and there's five
elders in their overalls.
it's like 1904, and they're barefoot.
And over that, they have their regalia.
And they're standing proud with their rattles.
And they have their turbans on.
They didn't wear that every day.
had been dead for a year, and they were
celebrating his existence.
So I took that photo, and then I took another photo, again,
of my bro Willie Nelson in his backyard, and his [INAUDIBLE]
by the horse shoe pit.
And gathered the boys and gave them rattles, and they stood
there proud with their rattles.
And what you don't see that you see in the other photo
that I went on to make were those Ipai Indians in the
clouds, for you to understand that we are the same people.
We are the same people.
That history is constant.
And we are part of that.
That these images would hit that first veil.
They'd hit the second veil, and the third veil to hit the
wall, and it would become true.
So there's a strategy to installation.
Because that whole space is mind.
And as I told you about that Indian that was dancing, I was
making you travel in a circle.
And that at the end if it, it would all come to reason.
But as you walk down this hallway, there was these funny
And I took this from the stations of the cross in a
Catholic church, where there's this story.
But in these little video players, there were similar
images to the images of the bigger photos that you saw.
So that I would use all the space.
You walk down the hall, and there was a problematic room
that I found.
And I kept going back to it.
Because I didn't want to ignore it.
And it was this room that was kind of dark.
And it had a gravel cement floor.
And I kept thinking, I can't ignore this.
I can block it off, but I should use this.
And then it came to me.
Again, about those photos, about those photos from the
turn of the century.
But I wanted to talk about the toil of women, the toil of
women and their place in our culture that is accepted by
them, that's an integral part of our culture.
For people to understand that feminism things may be part of
That doesn't mean it's part of ours.
There's a balance there.
And there was a photo of a woman in the Los Coyotes
She was Cahuilla.
And she's on a bedrock, and she's grinding, probably
[NATIVE LANGUAGE], probably acorn.
And about the toil and the work and the knowledge it
takes to make
[NATIVE LANGUAGE], our acorn bread.
And at the end of it, and we still make it today, that it's
not so much a necessity for survival,
but now it's gourmet.
Because not many people make it.
And when you take those plates, and my bro Johnny
Pine, he takes it to the old people.
How they light up when he gets them a little plate,
a pie pan of it.
And they go, oh.
That's Indian for, all right.
So I decided, and when you have a good tech and a good
crew, you can do anything.
And I'm talking to my tech and he says, got it.
And he built this trellis so that it would rise to
different sizes or heights, that it would hold a video
projector that would slide.
And that it would shoot this image down on the floor.
And the image appeared on a square of sand.
It wasn't on that concrete floor.
It was on a soft sand.
And sitting in that sand was a [INAUDIBLE].
And this image sort of appeared.
But you couldn't really make it out.
And then you realize this image, as you stayed with it,
And it would spin.
And it'd spin counterclockwise and clockwise.
And that the image would become slowly, but slowly ever
clearer, about that woman grinding, and that motion,
that spinning with her hand, grinding.
And the ambiance with that room, because I had the funds
to hire a composer, was a bull roarer, an instrument used by
Indians here in the Southwest not just as a musical
instrument but as an instrument
to call in the spirits.
And it has this really wonderful, futuristic sound to
it when you play it.
And you play it, it's on like a yo-yo string that's twisted
with a card shaped or sized piece of cotton wood.
And it spins when you do this, and it goes, hoo, hoo, hoo.
And about those research I did at the mission, including the
Pala Mission, which touts itself in our area as being
the only mission left out of the 21 missions and their
annexes that still serves the Indians.
And it's there on the Pala Reservation.
And I won't go into this, because it gets kind of deep
about how we're able to walk in both those worlds of the
religion, of tradition religion and Catholicism.
And how we've made do and kind of integrated our stuff as a
survival tactic by accepting that, but making it ours.
But I wanted to use this mission as sort of the format
or the place to speak to these things that I wanted to share
with you about Pablo Tac.
And that the walls were canvas painted just like the designs
that are up there in the Pala Mission that have survived all
these years and repainted.
So it sort of felt like I was at home.
I'm not from Pala, but I go down there
for different things.
And that, again, that you would see this altar.
And there was a tapestry with the words of Pablo Tac in
Spanish, so that Latin speaking people could read his
words about why we dance.
And the altar would speak to the similarities and
differences as cultures, as Western culture and as native
cultures, and real basic things that we use and believe
and practice as people that believe in a higher power.
That there was a great find of this basket
rather than a cross.
It had four feathers.
And speaking about what we hold as wealth as different
cultures, but the big difference is about gold and
an eagle feather.
About the incense or that sage as part of the altar.
Because really, they are very similar in how we use them in
About the video that's on the altar that plays continually,
and it starts out with the grandeur of Italy and the
Vatican and these cathedrals.
And then it kind of goes crazy, because you realize
you're driving down this street and there's more
Then you realize it's the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
And the ambiance of the room began as an organ song, a
majestic church song.
But little did you know that it was an eagle song where our
people recomposed for organ.
And then at a crescendo it went, da da da, da da da.
The church bells went off, the mass bells.
And another song started.
And it kind of sounded familiar.
That's because it was.
It was Procol Harum, "A Whiter Shade of Pale." About the
vitrines to house the sacraments, about the
similarities and differences between us as native cultures
and Western culture.
About those church bells that instruct you to rise and do
different things during ceremony, just
like we use our rattles.
Not only to play and sing our songs but at a given moment,
you sit up because it's about to begin.
About sage and about instance, which of course, in this
civilized culture, it has to be gold, a gold container to
hold the incense.
But when it comes right down to it, it's the same thing.
About what we hold as sacred.
About water and the native cultures as being a source of
life, and for all cultures as well.
But I took a tiny bit from the piece from the Catholic
culture and presented the vials from the last rites,
which are liquids, about water being blessed.
And it becomes holy water.
Oh, this little joke I made about Pablo Tac being lonely
in Rome, missing the outdoors.
Maybe what it meant and how it felt like being out in the
brush with your throwing stick, and a critter goes by
and you know him out.
But they didn't have throwing sticks there.
They didn't have the material, so I took this hammer and
incised our designs in it, and killed
big rats in the Vatican.
On my first site visit I saw this place, this place that I
thought so special.
Because this was a palace.
And like all good palaces, there's gardens.
And this enclosed garden was a stage.
And I don't always perform with my exhibits, but
sometimes, like with the pipe, they conjure up things.
And I thought about it for a while.
And in my research, one of the things I found that I kept
thinking about is that Pablo's still there.
He never came home.
He's in a graveyard in Rome.
And I don't know if any other Payomkawichum people had come
to visit him.
But I would visit him.
And I would sing some of our songs for him.
And that I would do this ritual-like sacrificial
performance for four hours for four days.
And it wouldn't just be about California native people, but
it'd be a montage of tribal people and dances that I've
seen and learned in my cultural experiences.
That I would transform this place very simply, just like
this place might be transformed some night, where
they would have a mini powwow in here.
And the Indian people would drive up with their station
wagons and pickups.
And they'd get that drum off and put it in the
center of the room.
They'd put those circle of chairs, and people would get
their suitcases out and put on their regalia.
And for several hours here, this would not
be the Heard Museum.
It'd be a ceremonial space.
It'd be a place for people to rejoice and be Indian.
And at the end of the night, they'd pack up their goods,
put the drum in the truck and drive away, and this place
would be just like it was before.
That's how we do things.
That's how we survive.
That's how we make do.
That this ritual place would be a simple place.
It'd be a circle of rocks.
That I'd place these stones, and that'd make it more
ceremonial that I had these arrows.
And I'd place them in the cardinal directions, and ask
permission to puncture Mother Earth and place them in
homage, in a special prayer for the epidemic of diabetes
in our communities.
I would speak to it.
And at the cardinal directions, it was geometric
shapes, steps, made with syringes, my
syringes that I use daily.
And there would be packets of sugar and packets of Sweet 'n
Low to add some color to it.
And just something special for us Indians to have a laugh at,
that at these cardinal places there were cans of Spam.
And then I was ready.
Not before, a great deal, Paiute, from the Museum of the
My assistant came out with this blanket.
And just like so many tribal things that we do that are
similar but different, we put the blanket out for you to
participate, for you to share in that ritual by
At our funerals, there's a basket on top of the coffin.
People take up money.
They put out the blanket, and put the basket out before they
bury or after the bury.
Because that's money for the singers, and that's gas money
for the grave diggers.
It's our way.
It's a beautiful thing Like at powwows, they do
these special dances.
And they get that money.
And it doesn't go to the families.
It goes to the drummers.
We put that blanket out.
And people contributed.
They brought me a cheeseburger.
Got me some change.
I had some good wine later.
Gave me some smokes.
Somebody brought me a little cactus.
But nonetheless, it was a good thing.
And to signal that and also to pay homage to tradition and
food and health, on each of the cardinal corners, or each
of the corners of the blanket, I presented the three
sisters plus one--
corn, beans, squash, and acorns for California people.
And at a given time, I would come out, my simple regalia of
a California Indian--
my breechcloth, my shells, and my rattle.
And I would begin my dance for the first dance of the day.
And I would step into that circle.
And I would do a facsimile of our hee hee.
But it was also reminiscent of sundancing and various other
simple dances that we do.
And then the sound came on, the ambiance, a montage of
tribal music, Latin music, dogs barking.
It was beautiful.
Oh, they love my *** suit in Italy.
My friend, my art hero Rebecca Belmore represented the nation
of Canada, the first native woman to represent that
country at the Venice Biennale.
Not the first Indian, but the first native person.
She's my bud.
It as such an honor to share that stage with her.
She brought family.
So we had all kinds of Indians running around.
Willie, my bro, went with me.
[INAUDIBLE], who's Cuban.
We had a pot of beans.
Willie made fry bread.
I made a weak salsa from the chilies they had there.
Not the same, but it worked.
At various times, when the character had enough, I would
go offstage, change.
I was an Oklahoma gourd dancer.
I was a woodland slower dancer.
Sometimes I just mixed it up.
And there were messages.
You can't have a good Indian doings without the veterans,
our warriors, who are still with us today.
They happen to be lawyers, teachers, writers, artists,
defending, protecting, speaking for the people.
Then it became a soldier.
And then I became what you call a terrorist, about
defending the homeland.
I thought about our warriors in Chiapas.
I thought about our people gathering, gathering to
survive and keep our free rights, and
make treaties in Canada.
I thought about the other times and their particular
problems, and our demonstrations, our
[INAUDIBLE], our activists, protecting the homeland.
And then again, I kept seeing these gondola drivers on a
So I went up to them.
I upped the ante, and became a leather gondola driver.
I'd see them gather and smoke.
But I'd been to other places in other countries where they
have caricatures of something like Saint Patrick's Day.
About being able to take a picture
with a guard in England.
About being able to take a picture with a real Indian in
Cherokee, North Carolina.
They're just making a living.
And Greg, he came over.
It was done, my work was done.
And he came over.
And I thought that I would share something.
That I would take this moment to thank you all.
That I would go to that place, that place called home.
And at the end of the ceremony, at the end of a
meal, after a funeral, after a meeting, and if you want
Indians to come, then you feed them.
But nonetheless, someone would be selected.
And they'd get up there, and they'd say something similar
to what I'm going to tell you right now.
Thank you for coming tonight.
Thank you for listening.
If I succeeded tonight, then maybe you'll reconsider.
Maybe you'll do a little research.
And it isn't just about Indian people in America, it's about
ethnic people in America, about our inclusion.
It's about ethnic people in the world.
And I truly believe that if we shared knowledge about who we
really are as cultures, about what we believe in, what we
eat, what we laugh at, this world would be a better place.
Because certainly, we are in the midst of a racial war.
And that elder would get up and he would
say, drive home carefully.