NATIVE AMERICANS Indian Congress
How were Native Americans represented at the Indian Congress, and what purpose did this representation serve?
Real Culture, False Representations
Research compiled by: Justice A., Ariella G., Maurice M.
From June 1 to November 1, 1898, Omaha hosted the Trans-Mississippi Exposition and Indian Congress. The World Fair ran from North Ames Ave to South Wirt St. It stretched from East Sherman Ave (now 16th St) to West 24th St. The lagoon ran down the middle of what is now Kountze Park. The Indian Congress landed one-half mile north of the lagoon. (Map courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society)
In the photo on the left is a copy of one of the hand books from the Trans-Mississippi Exposition. It is open to the page with the Indian Congress exhibit information. If you looked at the Indian Exhibit from the outside you would see many different things going on. There was at least one tribe there all the time. With each different tribe, you would see many different colors and patterns. Each tribe would have performed different ceremonies and festivals. They had their tepees, wigwams, and cabins set up so people could see them along with anything else that they would have had set up. They had their pottery out along with any tools or ceremonial objects that they had. The ceremonial objects included decorated pipes, beaded clubs, and traditional ceremonial clothing. They were able to show their culture without the Europeans having an opinion on what was shown. (Artifact courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society)
This is a photograph of Santa Clara Indians and two children taken by the official photographer of the exposition, Frank Reinhart. Reinhart specialized in taking posed pictures of the Indian Congress and fair goers throughout the exposition. The purpose of the Indian Congress was to bring tribes together and showcase their way of life, native industries, and ethnic traits. In this exhibit, there were over 500 Native Americans from 35 different tribes including Sioux, Omaha, Cheyenne, and Ponca tribes. By conjoining all these cultures and traditions, it allowed the fair goers to be a part of a tremendous learning experience. (Photograph courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society)
The outbreak of the Spanish-American War and the subsequent American acquisition of “uncivilized” territories like the Philippines and Puerto Rico pushed Social Darwinism to the forefront of debates about the American Empire. An important influence on domestic understandings of Empire, Omaha's 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition triumphantly showcased the progress of the West. Juxtaposed with exhibits touting industrial and scientific progress, the Indian Congress and similar exhibits of “exotic” peoples at the exposition reaffirmed the place of the white, Anglo-American culture at the top of the racial hierarchy. In particular, the Indian Congress presented an idealized indigenous past while the United States expanded its imperial reach overseas.