Native Hosts

Signs that guide historical understanding

Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, Native Hosts (Arkansas), 2018, aluminum sign, series of seven, 46.7 x 92.5 cm (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, ©Hock E Aye VI Edgar Heap of Birds), a Seeing America video. Speakers: Dr. Mindy Besaw, Curator of American Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Dr. Beth Harris

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Heap of Birds, Native Hosts

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Key points

  • Through forced relocation and myths of eradication, Native Americans have been marginalized, obscuring the present-day vitality of over 500 federally-recognized tribes with independent sovereignty. Activists, including the artist Edgar Heap of Birds, are working to reveal the ongoing legacy of America’s colonialist past and make the presence of Native Americans visible in our daily lives.
  • In a series of signs created specifically for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Edgar Heap of Birds uses language to call the visitor’s attention to the native nations upon whose land they stand. He hopes to shift our perspective on the roles of hosts and visitors, and to conjure a generosity that contrasts with the historical treatment of Native Americans by the government.
  • This particular site, in Northwest Arkansas, carries special weight for the artist, as it was part of the Trail of Tears, the route of the forced relocation of 60,000 Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, and Seminole peoples from their ancestral lands to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

Go deeper

View this work at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

See an interactive map identifying the traditional territories of indigenous people throughout the world

Learn more about the Trail of Tears and explore resources from the National Park Service

Explore primary sources on the Trail of Tears

Explore primary sources on early 20th-century life within the Indian territories

Read an interview with the artist, where he discusses other parts of the Native Hosts series

See Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds discuss his work Surviving an Active Shooter Custer at MoMA

More to think about

Does where you live have place names or other indications of a Native American history in the area? This interactive map can help you if you’re not sure. How might you make people more aware of this history? How might you propose to bring attention to the modern presence of Native Americans in your area?