Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit and Unangax, b. 1979)
Nicholas Galanin’s exhibition, Dreaming in English, will open at the Van Every/Smith Galleries on October 14 and remain on view through December 9, 2021. Over the past two decades, Galanin has worked across media, materials, and processes, engaging past, present, and future to expose widespread misappropriation and commodification of Indigenous visual culture, the impact of colonialism, intentionally obscured collective memory, and barriers to the acquisition of knowledge. His practice, encompassing sculpture, installation, photography, video, performance, printmaking and textile-based works, unites traditional and contemporary processes and materials to reclaim narrative and creative agency, and contribute to the continuum of Tlingit art within an ever-evolving contemporary Indigenous practice. His exhibition at the Van Every/Smith Galleries includes an installation of the same title that speaks directly to the forced removal and relocation of Indigenous children from the reservation into residential “schools.” These so-called “schools” were not focused on education but rather on assimilation; the intent was to eradicate both culture and spirit.
In conjunction with his exhibition, we have invited Galanin to create a short-term, ephemeral outdoor project. His proposal, Unshadowed Land, builds on his recent installation for the Sydney Biennale, Shadow on the Land (2020). In November 2021 (or soon thereafter depending on COVID and his ability to travel), Galanin will create a site of exposed soil in the shape of the shadow of the monument to Andrew Jackson currently standing at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. The life-size silhouette will be cut (a few inches deep) into the land adjacent to the Visual Art Center. The site will remain fallow for several months, until late April/early May when members of the Davidson community will work together, along with citizens of the Catawba Indian Nation and their Food Sovereignty Working Group, to plant Catawba corn into the silhouette. This restoration has symbolic meaning. Prior to the eighteenth century, villages surrounded by fields of this variety of corn lined the banks of the Catawba River like beads on a string. Many of those sites are submerged under Lake Norman today and inaccessible. The location of Galanin’s piece also is significant in that it reintroduces a garden to the previous site of Davidson College’s antellebum-era presidential home where enslaved women once gardened and labored in a kitchen to feed the college president’s family and guests of the college.
Why Andrew Jackson? Jackson, more so than any other US leader, is associated with settler colonialism in the Native South. He also has ties to this region. Jackson was born near the border of North and South Carolina in the Waxhaws, which is located between Davidson College and the Catawba reservation. As military commander, he led the assault on the Mvskogee Red Sticks at Tohopeka (Horseshoe Bend) and forced the Treaty of Fort Jackson on Native combatants and allies alike in 1814; this treaty ended Native military resistance to US expansion in the South and opened 23 million acres of the Cotton Belt to plantation agriculture and chattel slavery. As President, Jackson oversaw the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which resulted in the forcible removal of over 60,000 Indigenous people from an additional 25 million acres of land between 1830-1860 and thousands of Indigenous deaths. Both of his accomplishments were wildly popular with Southern voters and facilitated settler occupation and the enslavement it depended on. Jackson also was the first Presbyterian to serve as President of the US at a time when the church was heavily invested in child separation as a form of racial uplift for Indigenous people, and wrestling with whether to accept enslavement or condemn it as a moral evil. Of course, Jackson also was a planter and slave owner. The shadow of Jackson and his decisions as a general, President, and enslaver stretch over the last 200 years onto the land today, impacting the ability of Indigenous and Black communities to access land and water, to feed themselves sustainably, and for Native people surviving in the South, to be visible to their non-Indian neighbors. Comparable to the recognizable silhouette of Captain James Cook that Galanin carved into the land in Sydney, he proposes to embed the familiar image of Jackson on his war horse into this land once inhabited by Native people and worked by the enslaved.
Why a collaboration with the Catawba Indian Nation? Davidson College exists on the Catawba’s ancestral land. The Catawba ceded this territory to the Carolinas in a series of treaties during the 1760s following after a deadly smallpox epidemic that decimated their population. This occurred during the same time period as intense military conflict in which settlers from the Carolinas destroyed Cherokee villages in what is now upstate South Carolina. Witnessing the scorched earth assault on the still powerful tribe to their west, the weakened Catawba negotiated with settlers to survive in a small fraction of their homeland. They accepted a reservation near what is today the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina. As the architects of what became removal policy began to challenge tribal land rights within the boundaries of existing states like South Carolina, the Catawba became an early target. Anticipating the federal cases that would clarify issues of tribal sovereignty and federal jurisdiction over Indian affairs, settlers in York County used the South Carolina state courts to deprive Catawbas of their land. Research is ongoing, but preliminary findings suggest that some of these settler families were planters affiliated with the Bethel Presbytery, one of the three founding presbyteries of Davidson College. In 1840, the Catawbas signed the Treaty of Nations Ford, through which they ceded their remaining 144,000 acres of land to South Carolina and agreed to voluntarily leave the state. Most Catawbas stayed, however, and like approximately two dozen other small Native communities across the Carolinas who were not removed, they were dispossessed, impoverished, and “hid in plain sight” as farmers and field hands on the land that had once been theirs.
This existence of tribes without the boundaries of existing states was a matter of great concern not just to Native people but to non-Native people as well. Reflecting high-profile national debates over Indian removal and the leadership of the Presbyterian church in mission education and conversion efforts since the Washington administration, nineteenth-century Davidson students in both the Philanthropic and Eumenean Societies engaged in civil discourse around the government’s responsibility for and treatment of Indigenous people. Phi and Eu debates include “Was the government justifiable in sending the Indians west of the Mississippi?” (Eu, 1/10/1840); “Has the course of policy pursued by the U. States government towards the Indians been consistent with justice, and the principles of honor and sincerity assumed by the American people?” (Phi, 5/15/1840); and “Have the Aborigines of America been treated with justice?” (Phi, 10/30/1840). In fact, no topic appears with greater regularity in the early years of the societies than Indian affairs. Not even slavery.
Why corn? Corn was the staple food of Indigenous people east of the Mississippi River, and along with beans and squash, these “three sisters” provided the majority of calories consumed by Native people and profoundly shaped Southern cuisine for settlers and the enslaved. Beyond physical sustenance, corn provided medicine, and its growing season structured the gendered division of labor and spiritual practice. Like most Native people in this region, the Catawba grew multiple varieties of corn, which they ate fresh, processed and preserved, traded, and redistributed as part of their diplomatic protocol.
Catawba corn was chosen for this project after a conversation between Galanin and Catawba scholars DeLesslin "Roo" George-Warren and Dr. Brooke Bauer because of its medicinal significance, historic status as a staple crop, and current efforts for its reintroduction. Over time, Native people throughout the South stopped planting their unique, regional varieties and adopted the dominant, sweeter versions preferred by settlers. Catawbas were no different. The Catawba only began growing this colorful variety of corn again in 2019, after obtaining seed from Dr. David Shields (University of South Carolina). In Fall 2022, we would harvest the corn and rematriate it back to the Catawba Indian Nation, helping build up their seed collection. By gifting corn back to the Catawba, we seek to acknowledge their ancestral ownership of this land, our commitment to tend to it, and our hope to create a reciprocal relationship moving forward. We see this planting, harvesting, and gifting as a potential process through which the college can produce a formal land acknowledgement: this justice issues is a pressing demand of students, faculty, alumni, and staff.
Unshadowed Land thus is an antithesis to monuments celebrating genocide and enslavement. Instead, it invokes the intersection between these expressions of white supremacy but culminates in gestures of acknowledgement, healing, and reconciliation. This work is an un-shadowing of land, a bringing to light the injustices of the settler history of the Carolinas, and a move toward cultivation and celebration of Indigenous connection to the land and a continuum of ancestral knowledge. It is an outgrowth of past, current, and ongoing antiracist work to consider the college’s history and establish reciprocal, respectful relationships with Native people in our region, especially the Catawba, moving forward.
Host a public Zoom conversation with Nicholas Galanin to learn more about his exhibition at the Van Every/Smith Galleries, Dreaming in English, as well as his upcoming temporary outdoor project, Unshadowed Land.
Create the silhouette/garden bed on the VAC lawn.
In collaboration with ENV and the campus farm, host a conversation with Dr. David Shields, nicknamed the “flavor saver” and “Roo” George-Warren on seed saving and Catawba efforts to reclaim their ancestral foods.
Work with the community to plant Catawba corn at the VAC and potentially at the campus farm.
The project will be tended to throughout the summer by Gallery staff, summer interns, and community members.
Harvest the corn in partnership with the Catawba Indian Nation. We will return to them some corn to them on ear for their seed reclamation project and collaborate with Vail Commons to use the rest in traditional Southeastern Indian dishes using corn. Repeating the successful collaboration with Chef Sean Sherman in Fall 2018, students, faculty, and staff will be able to enjoy the menu at lunch, and we will take additional food to Catawba that evening to share with the tribe, who will host Galanin for a talk.
With the History Department, co-host the book launch of the first history of the Catawba Indian Nation written by a member of the Catawba Nation, Dr. Brooke Bauer, professor at University of Tennessee-Knoxville. This book will be released by the University of Alabama Press in 2022.
Organize class visits with Dr. Annie Merrill’s ENV courses. Ideas include:
Environmental Justice course will host a conversation with Roo on food sovereignty (Fall 2022)
ENV 401: Indigeneity and Environment (ENV capstone seminar) will include a unit on the Catawba (Spring 2023)
ENV 203: Environmental Humanities will include a unit on Catawba and food sovereignty (Spring 2023)
Organize class visits with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s HIS classes.
Students in HIS 248: Native South will research Native corn. Their research will form the basis of a website to archive the collaboration between Galanin, Davidson College, and the Catawba Indian Nation.
Host talks and events with other Catawba artists.
Work with Catawba Indian Nation and Davidson College’s community, including the physical plant/grounds crew, to determine the next steps for the land. One idea is to convert the open land into a field of wildflowers and native species, including those being rematriated by the Catawba into their gardens.
 Settler colonialism is a distinct type of colonialism in which settlers come to stay permanently to occupy and assert sovereignty over indigenous lands and to replace indigenous populations with an invasive settler society that, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty.