With such a grandiose title, Warriors of the plain: 200 years of Native North American Honour, we expected quite a lot from the 2010 exhibition at The British Museum. While it is very cool throughout, giving a great insight into the honourable warrior way of life for plains Indians, it misses out on the opportunity to chronicle more about the history of Native Americans, how this merged with the history of America as a whole and the interactions between the two peoples.
Nothing is mentioned, for example, of the devastating impact of the European colonisation of America, which was aggressive to say the least. Conflict, genocide and the introduction of new diseases by the European expansionists is completely overlooked, which does little justice to the reality of the situation. Whereas the introduction of reservations in the 1900s in which American culture was forced upon the Plains Indians has but a short paragraph in one of the information boards.
In 1973, Native American Indian Sacheen Littlefeather took to the podium at the 45th Annual Academy Awards to decline the best actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando. He refused the award in the speech that Sacheen read out on the grounds that he felt unable to accept it in the light of the portrayal of Native Americans in movies at the time and reruns on TV. The Warriors Of The Plain exhibition goes some way to explain Brando’s decision, highlighting the rich complexity of their way of life, but sadly loses a lot of the impact by skipped a few of the most significant points.
The exhibition has a lot of interesting artifacts, and does a good job of chronicling the mix of warrior and honour of the Plains Indian’s way of life. However, its limited size and scope makes it feel a bit too small to really impress and leaves you wishing for more of the overall history of the Native American people.
The Warriors Of The Plain exhibition ran between 7th Jan – 5th April 2010 with free entry. Perhaps our favourite aspect of the displays was the reiteration of the coolness of Native American Indian societies and their clothing. The feathered headdress (pictured above) looked stunning up close, with massively impressive detail and evidence of the craft skill that the Plains Indians had.
For this and many of the other items on display we’re glad we got a chance to see the exhibition for ourselves, despite its slightly limited coverage. It’s incredible how well preserved all of the artifacts are, which is a testimony to the skill of the original craftspeople, as well as the efforts of their archivists.
Warriors Of The Plain: 200 Years Of Native North American Honour exhibition review: 3.2/5