“‘D-Day Warriors: American Indians in the Military’ Opens at Field Museum,” by S.M. O’Connor

Tuesday, June 4, 2019 was the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France, when the Allies began to liberate France with the invasion of Normandy, which was under occupation by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.  Not coincidentally, the small exhibit D-Day Warriors: American Indians in the Military opened at The Field Museum of Natural History this month.  Charles Norman Shay, a Penobscot Elder and retired Master Sergeant, was a U.S. Army medic in that invasion force.[1]  The ninety-four-year-old Shay helped open a new park in Normandy, Charles Shay Memorial Park.[2] The exhibit, which uses photographs, historical narratives, and video interviews to relate Shay’s story and the contributions American Indians continue to make to the American military services, will close on Sunday, February 2, 2020. It is on display near the Maori Meeting House.  To learn more, check www.fieldmuseum.org/d-day.

Created in partnership with the Trickster Gallery in Schaumburg, Illinois, D-Day Warriors: American Indians in the Military features photo panels, video interviews of Shay, and a display case featuring a U.S. Army infantryman’s helmet used in France during the Second Great World War. “We wanted to focus on Charles Shay as part of the story, presenting him in the broader context of American Indian service in the military,” says Field Museum Exhibitions Operations Director Tom Skwerski.

For over a decade, Shay has returned to Omaha Beach in Normandy every year to honor fallen servicemen and servicewomen through traditional American Indian ceremonies. Shay has also worked with fellow members of his tribe to identify unmarked graves in France, having found fifty-eight to date. According to The Field Museum, “Shay continues his annual trips to commemorate D-Day and combat the erasure of American Indian military narratives.”

Joe Podlasek, C.E.O. of the Trickster Gallery and a citizen of the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Tribe, hopes the exhibit will challenge misunderstandings visitors may have about American Indian history and culture. “Hollywood, literature, and history books about our people—but not written by our community—have kept us in that stereotypical role of fighting against, rather than for, this country,” stated Podlasek. “Twenty-two percent, or nearly one in four Native people, have served in the military. We have served in the United States Military in higher rates than any other ethnic group since the Revolutionary War—and that history needs to be shared at its fullest.”

Field Museum Curator of North American Anthropology Alaka Wali seconds Podlasek’s sentiment, encouraging veterans and the American Indian community to visit. “It is an honor to host this exhibition here at the Field Museum with our longtime collaborator, the Trickster Gallery,” Wali stated. “The remarkable story of Charles Shay is very moving, as it brings to light this little-known dimension of American Indian contribution to safeguarding the United States. We look forward to welcoming American Indian community members, veterans of all wars, and our general public.” Field Museum Curator of North American Anthropology Alaka Wali seconds Podlasek’s sentiment, encouraging veterans and the American Indian community to visit. “It is an honor to host this exhibition here at the Field Museum with our longtime collaborator, the Trickster Gallery,” Wali says. “The remarkable story of Charles Shay is very moving, as it brings to light this little-known dimension of American Indian contribution to safeguarding the United States. We look forward to welcoming American Indian community members, veterans of all wars, and our general public.”

1. © Field Museum photo by Michelle Kuo

Figure 1 Credit: Michelle Kuo, © The Field Museum Caption: Created in partnership with the Trickster Gallery in Schaumburg, Illinois, D-Day Warriors: American Indians in the Military features photo panels.

2. © Field Museum photo by Michelle KuoFigure 2 Credit: Michelle Kuo, © The Field Museum Caption: In addition to photo panels, D-Day Warriors: American Indians in the Military also has video interviews of Shay, and a display case featuring an American infantryman’s helmet used in France during World War II.

MaximoFigure 1 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: These are Máximo the Titanosaur and a Quetzalcoatlus (suspended from the ceiling), in Stanley Field Hall at The Field Museum of Natural History.

 

The Field Museum turned 125 years old in December, so this is a good year to see it.  Originally, it was called the Field Columbian Museum and it had a wide variety of exhibits as a repository of artifacts and specimens from Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893).  It was also housed, until 1920, in the Palace of Fine Arts (which now houses the Museum of Science and Industry).  Marshall Field I (1834-1906) donated the first $1,000,000 to endow the institution and left a bequest of $8,000,000 to increase the endowment and build a new museum.  His nephew, Stanley Field, was the third President of The Field Museum (1908-1964) and oversaw the construction of the new building.  He also donated an additional $2,000,000.  In 1900, The Field Museum narrowed its focus and became the organization we know today.  The South Park Commission, which later merged in 1934 with Chicago’s twenty-one other park districts to form the Chicago Park District, created Burnham Park with lakefill in part to provide a site for the construction of the new Field Museum as it was illegal to build in Grant Park.  The Field Museum is a research institution as well as a museum and employs scientists as well as curators, preparators, a librarian, an archivist, etc.

The Field Museum is part of the Museum Campus with the John G. Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium at the northern end of Burnham Park.  The Field Museum is open every day of the year, save one (Christmas Day).  It is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  with the last admission at 4:00 p.m.  There are upcoming Illinois Resident Free Days.   The street address of The Field Museum is 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496.  The phone number is (312) 922-9410.  The Website is https://www.fieldmuseum.org/.

ENDNOTES

[1] The Penobscot live mostly in Maine in the U.S.A. and Quebec in Canada. Historically, they were part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, and spoke an Algonquin dialect The Penobscot live mostly in Maine in the U.S.A. and Quebec in Canada. Historically, they were part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, and spoke an Algonquin dialect.

[2] American Indians and French youths participated in a Water Ceremony wherein they sprinkled tobacco over the grounds and offered up prayers.

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