Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Invisible Forces of Change: United States Indian Policy and American Indian Art

Abstract of a Manifestations Essay by Stephen Wall, J.D. and Stephen Fadden

Among the discourse in Native Art criticism are few references to the legal/historical milieu that provides context for Native expression at any specific time. Aside from generalized acknowledgements of stolen lands, razed cultures and colonial relations, specific laws and policies that have formulated and directed tribal life across the United States have been largely ignored in the fields of Native Art History and Native Art Criticism.

American Indian life in the United States has been subject to innumerable treaties, policies, laws, and regulations that exist in the realm of Federal, state and tribal governance. Over the last 225 years, Indian people have had to adjust their culture, world-view and expression to varying and often contradictory laws and policies. During this time, tribal people have expressed themselves and their culture in diverse ways, often incorporating the media and technology of the dominant society. Laws and policies imposed by Federal, tribal and state governments have molded tribal expression. Through analysis of some of these laws and forms of expression, this paper will argue that the impact of such laws and policies must incorporated into the vocabulary of Native Art criticism.