Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan
A spur-of-the-moment family trip to Washington DC last week brought the opportunity, not only for cherry blossoms (whose slow blooming from day to day was truly beautiful) but also for a long-awaited return visit to the National Museum of the American Indian.
The Museum’s collection features arts, crafts, tools and cultural artifacts, ancient and modern, from Native groups the length and breadth of the western hemisphere. Among the most fascinating pieces are those created by Indian artists specifically for the museum.
Of those, I was most touched and inspired by a life-sized bronze sculpture entitled Allies in War, Partners in Peace, by Edward Hlavka of St. George, Utah. The work is a gift of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, memorializing the friendship forged between the Oneida and the fledgling United States during the Revolutionary War.
Its foremost figure is that of Polly Cooper, the Oneida woman who, with Chief Shenendoah and other Oneidas, walked over 400 miles in the winter of 1777-78 to bring supplies of corn for the starving soldiers at Valley Forge. She taught the soldiers how to cook the corn and remained to help them, refusing pay, throughout the war. The other figures are Shenendoah, in a traditional Oneida headdress, and George Washington, holding the wampum belt that symbolized the agreement between the U.S. and the Oneida Nation that “neither will interfere in the internal affairs of the other.” They stand beneath a white pine tree, said to be a symbol of peace to the Oneida. A hatchet is buried beneath the tree’s roots at Washington’s feet, and a pistol beneath the roots at Shenendoah’s.