The Briscoe Western Art Museum is offering a full slate of opportunities to celebrate Native American Heritage Month, as it has each year since 2013.

The Yanaguana Indian Arts Celebration, the centerpiece of the museum’s Native American Heritage activities, will take place virtually Saturday and Sunday on the Briscoe’s website

Virtual events on Saturday will begin with a special blessing by members of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation. Saturday’s events also include a tour of several of the San Antonio Missions led by members of the American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions (AITSCM), a ledger art workshop, a flute performance, and a tour of the museum’s new exhibit Visual Voices: Contemporary Chickasaw Art. The exhibit will be on view at the museum through Jan. 18 and a recording of the virtual tour will be available online for those who prefer to explore from home.

Events Sunday include a Huichol art and a silversmithing demonstration, an artist board panel discussion on Visual Voices, a storytelling hour, and a dance performance.

“Our goal for Native American Heritage Month is to focus primarily on Native artists and their work, allowing them to interpret their own culture,” said the Briscoe’s curator of education Ryan Badger.

Beyond “providing a venue for Native stories to be told,” Badger said that the museum aims to “showcase the breadth of talent among Native artists, and the diversity of Native groups to our local and non-local community,” with a keen eye toward undoing the harmful and erroneous notion of a Native Americans as a single homogeneous cultural group.

“We hope to demonstrate that Native American artists and communities were, and continue to be, a major part of the artistic heritage of this country, and that part is comprised of many perspectives,” Badger said, noting that the museum has intentionally drawn on “the talents of artists from a variety of tribal nations to emphasize the scope of cultural backgrounds.”

In that spirit, with the Huichol, Payaya, Oneida, and other peoples elsewhere represented, Visual Voices zeros in on the work of 15 current Chickasaw artists, including painters, potters, sculptors, metalsmiths, and weavers, to highlight the present-day presence and preoccupations of this people of the Southeast. 

As a whole, the exhibit can be said to offer a kind of loose and organic visual narrative, told with contemporary context and ancestral subtext in a voice both old and new. 

Manuel Davila-De Leon, AITSCM cultural coordinator, said that the importance and necessity of events like those surrounding Native American Heritage Month stems from the fact that “far too often the stories and contributions of Texas’ aboriginal peoples are ignored or treated as nonexistent.”

He also issued something of a call to do more.

“As we recognize Native American appreciation in the month of November, we have to remember that the land’s first people need to be acknowledged in every level of society and in institutions of higher learning,” he said.

In Davila-De Leon’s estimation, the biggest problems currently facing indigenous communities in Bexar County and elsewhere are “lack of acknowledgement and tokenism.”

As such, he offered some poignant points to ponder as we celebrate another Native American Heritage Month:

“As Indigenous people, we are constantly told that either our people are extinct or that we have to prove their existence as the aboriginal people of San Antonio. The Texas and U.S. history presented to us as truths have always favored the writers of these stories and not the people they affect. We as a society must question the history we have always been given and [which we] perpetuate.”

James Courtney

James Courtney

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.