The Hunt; Rites of Passage, When We Were Warriors

In the 1800’s ledger art style, this piece is designed with color pencil and ink on an original United States Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, Register of Bill & Revenue Receipts, cir. 1900’s.

Historically Ledger Art was a visual and spiritual response to a devastating transitional era for Indigenous tribes in the US.  Ledger Art derived its name from the literal application of artistic depictions to ledger paper/books or historical documents. The actual depictions were transitional representations of earlier winter counts or buffalo hide paintings practiced by Northern and Southern Plains warriors of great status.

In the mid to late 1800’s buffalo hides and herds were becoming scarcer.  In attempts to control Indigenous tribes, the US Government placed a bounty on buffalo hides and tongues, attacking the life source of native tribes by destroying their food source. 

Paper documents traveled to Indigenous lands through Western Expansion, military and merchants.  The paper soon became the replacement by warriors to older expressive surfaces such as buffalo hides. Although traditional surfaces were depleted, continuations of traditional visual expressions were illustrated on this new surface to depict courtship, conflict, ceremony and hunting of past and present events.

The selected document for “The Hunt; A rites of passage, when we were warriors” is from the Department of Interior. The DOI was created in 1894 to handle US domestic affairs including public lands, parks, and water systems in the nation’s capital, pensions, colonization of freed slaves in Haiti and the basic responsibility of Indians. Today, the Department of Interior’s responsibility is the government-to-government relationship between the federal government and the federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. 

In the background are four warriors depicted in the 1800’s historic ledger art style whom represent, “from all four directions our ancestors are a part of us, we are our ancestors”. Depicted in the middle ground are two warriors on a buffalo hunt. The images are of the boy and his father, strategically placed in the center of the composition to denote guidance through his transition to manhood.

Illustrated in the foreground is a young man in his transitional stage of life, removed from his home, family and traditions displaced in boarding school by the Government’s attempt to “Americanize” Native People’s, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”, thus beginning the boarding school era of 1887.  Ironically, the boy with his box on a campus hunt for a bunny represents colonization and innocence.