Breaking The Binds

Shan Goshorn
9” X 4.5” X 4.5”
Arches watercolor paper printed with archival inks, acrylic paint, artificial sinew, copper foil

In many traditional Native societies (my tribe included), women were revered as leaders not only in the home but within the community. They frequently defended life and culture and in times of hostile conflict, a Cherokee woman bore the responsibility of deciding whether the tribe would go to war. Colonists were shocked by the way Cherokee warriors would defer to women regarding important tribal decisions and took actions to Christianize tribes as quickly as possible, reducing Cherokee women to the lower status experienced by their culture's “civilized," genteel women.

Another key faction of the government-led movement to assimilate Indians into “white civility” resulted in a social experiment conceived by Captain Richard H. Pratt. He created the military style Carlisle Indian Boarding School to teach Native students how to fit into the new American society. The children were coerced or forced from their families and taken far from home to this Pennsylvanian facility, often for many years; over the course of its 40-year run, approximately 10-12,000 children attended the institution. At Carlisle, they would learn to speak, dress, act and think like white citizens, thus eradicating native culture in one generation. Their education included repercussions for “acting Indian”; punishments were frequent and sometimes severe, especially for the forbidden act of speaking one’s tribal language, thus silencing an entire generation of voices. Specifically in regards to the Native girls who were indoctrinated at the school, permanently reshaping their lives as they later grew into women, this oppressive process literally squeezed them into new roles (think corsets), enforcing strange values and reducing the status previously afforded to their maternal ancestors. Names from the Carlisle student roster are featured on the red and white splints woven into this piece.

To counter the binding oppression of these teachings, I have included names I received from a social media request. In less than 48 hours, I received over 700 names of extraordinary Native women who were instrumental in the lives of Native communities. These names are reprinted on the rust colored splints.

At first impression, this basket is femininely shaped, much like a vase. But upon closer understanding of the statement, it becomes evident that the flowing undulations are caused by suffocating restrictions rather than echoing naturally occurring womanly breasts and hips. Yet, standing like a straight, proud woman, it celebrates the strength of Native women who have persevered in spite of government enforced concepts; these leaders will continue to guide and nurture our traditions and community.

The intertwined copper is representative of feminine beauty and carries sacred associations for many tribes, including my own.