Ghostly relic of massacre

28th March 1997 at 00:00
Glasgow Museums' Ghost Dance Shirt, believed to have been worn at the infamous Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, when more than 300 Lakota were slaughtered by the US Cavalry, forms the centrepiece of an exhibition on North American Indians at the city's Scotland Street School Museum of Education.

The shirt, complete with bullet holes, was bought a year after the massacre from an interpreter who was travelling with a group of Lakota who had come to Glasgow with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

In 1995 the Lakota asked for the relic back but Glasgow Museums have argued that, as there is only one like it in the UK but several in America,it should be kept here and "used to educate the British public on the history of the Ghost Dance and the Wounded Knee Massacre".

The decorated shirts which were supposed to make wearers invulnerable to bullets, were part of a new Ghost Dance religion that gave hope to the doomed Plains Indians with promises of a better world where the buffalo and wild horses would once more roam, free of the white man.

As well as the shirt and other Indian artefacts, such as a baby's bonnet which is also said to have come from the massacre site, the exhibition includes a comprehensive and lively section in words, pictures and objects on the history of North America's native people, which has been put together by Barrie Cox, the Edinburgh-based founder of the International North American Indian Association.

Aimed at primary and secondary pupils, it plots the migration of North America's first settlers, shows how they lived (tipis were only one of nine types of typical native dwelling), how they were affected by European incomers, their contributions to the world at large and how they live today.

In addition, there are paintings, poems and photographs - seen in Scotland for the first time - by contemporary Indian artists and writers who, more than 100 years after the massacre, are still trying to come to terms with one of the most tragic events in the history of North America's native people.

Curator Dorothy Stewart says: "This is an exhibition which will be of interest to primary school children doing a project on American Indians and to upper school pupils taking either modern or religious studies."

On Skye, a first class exhibition on the ancient culture of Scotland's own native people, has opened at the An Tuirean Arts Centre in Portree. Featuring paintings, photograph s and sculptures (one with a pair of tartan boots), "An da Shealladh", meaning two sights or second sight, focuses on a "mysterious but well-establishe d element in Scottish culture," according to Highland Council Arts who are organising the touring show. Sixteen contemporary artists have taken this theme as the starting point to review the phenomenon, the culture it produced and its relevance today.

The exhibition has already attracted hundreds of people including all the third and fourth year pupils from Portree High who, in fact, are taken to see every show at the centre which is conveniently situated only a few streets away from the school (thus doing away with those increasingly burdensome transport costs).

Andrew McMorrine, principal art teacher at Portree, says the exhibition is particularly relevant to his pupils "because we've inherited a Celtic Fantasy design unit, based on Skye's cultural heritage, in the Standard grade art curriculum".

However, the Portree pupils will probably be even more interested in the next exhibition to be staged at the centre - a show of their own work, now an annual event at An Tuirean (the gallery's name is Gaelic for a spark from the anvil of creativity).

Highland Council Arts have produced an excellent pack of 24 cards to accompany the Second Sight show which includes an essay about the phenomenon and illustrations of all the works with comments by the artists.

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