This collection of films produced and acquired by the Museum of the American Indian (MAI) contains materials created by and for the MAI as ethnographic studies and as documentation of its own activities (including archaeological expeditions and cultural exchanges) between 1917 and 1938. Tribes represented include: Arikara, Crow, Navajo, Pilaga, Pueblo, Shoshone, and Zuni. Also included is footage of Hidatsa representatives and Zuni translators in Washington, D.C. and at the MAI; footage of MAI founder and director George Gustav Heye; and footage of the Hawikku (Hawikuh) and Kechipauan archaeological sites, Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. The collection consists mainly of successive 16mm and 35mm negative film duplicates and prints of now-destroyed original 35mm nitrate negatives. Series 4 gathers paper records directly pertaining to the collection. Preservation copies of the films exist on 35mm polyester film and Digital Betacam video tape. Access copies are available on DVDs.
The first series in this collection includes film, video, and DVD duplicates of ethnographic films funded, overseen, and filmed by agents of the MAI throughout the Western and Southwestern United States. The second series includes ethnographic films acquired rather than produced by the MAI of the Navajo and Pilaga. The third series consists of film produced by the MAI documenting its own activities, including an excavation at Hawikuh and Kechipauan, New Mexico; footage of MAI founder and director George Gustav Heye; and footage of Native visitors to the MAI and to Washington, D.C.
This collection is arranged into four series and chronologically within each series. Included are Series 1: Films Produced by the Museum of the American Indian, 1923-1927; Series 2: Films Acquired by the Museum of the American Indian, 1923-1924; Series 3: Documentation of Museum of the American Indian Activities, 1917-1938; and Series 4: Paper Records of the Ethnographic Film Collection. Titles within subseries are generally arranged alphabetically, with unrestricted titles listed before those restricted due to culturally sensitive content.
Within the collection, each unit of motion picture film (reel, videotape, or DVD) is assigned an identifying number. In this system, the final four appended numbers correspond to a title and a format. The full identifying number will appear as such: NMAI.AC.001.001.XX.YY, where XX corresponds to a numbered title and YY indicates the format of the print, as follows:
01: 35mm print (1917–1938, circa the original film dates)
02: 16mm dupe neg (made circa 1961 from XX.01 35mm)
03: 16mm print (from XX.02 for release, circa 1961)
04: 16mm print (from XX.02 for file/work or research, circa 1961)
05: 35mm dupe neg (preservation copy, made 2012–2014 from XX.01 and XX.02)
06: 35mm answer print (made 2012-2014 from XX.05)
07: Digital Betacam (preservation copy, made 2012-2014 from XX.06)
08, 09, 10 (if applicable): DVD (access copy, made 2012-2014 from XX.06)
11 and up: other copies and prints (see title-level notes for explanations)
Thus, for instance, the item with the number NMAI.AC.001.001.02.03 is the 16mm release print copy of the title "Deerskin Tanning and Wrapping the Leggings."
The content of each print or negative corresponding to the same title (XX) may be identical or similar. The content of the 1917-1938-era 35mm prints and the 1960s-era 16mm films differ. As the 35mm prints had deteriorated, damaged footage was removed prior to producing the 16mm negatives. After the 16mm negatives were produced, nitrate intertitles and additional damaged footage were also removed from the 35mm prints. The 2012-2014-era 35mm films were made by combining the existing 35mm prints with footage from the 16mm negatives in order to restore the most complete existing content to its highest possible quality. The Digital Betacam and DVD copies reproduce this restored footage.
This preservation and restoration effort was made possible by funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation, Save America's Treasures, and the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, as well as support from the National Museum of the American Indian.
The Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation was founded by George Gustav Heye in 1908 as a repository for his extensive collection of American Indian artifacts. Through the MAI, Heye funded extensive archaeological and anthropological fieldwork throughout the Americas. This collection represents a series of ethnographic films made in the course of MAI expeditions throughout the Western and Southwestern United States, as well as similar films purchased by the museum. The films record a variety of American Indian traditions, including crafts, foodways, games, and ceremonies, and were spurred by the era's perception of Native communities as "fast-disappearing" and vulnerable to dramatic change. The activities recorded range from quotidian to highly culturally sensitive, as followed Heye's all-encompassing collecting strategy.
The MAI's motion picture expeditions took place between 1923 and 1927 and were carried out by a number of agents of the museum, usually in the course of gathering artifacts. Many of these agents were anthropologists accompanied by professional photographers, but other footage is amateur. The MAI treated the series in full as technical educational material, noting in their 1962 motion picture film catalog that "they are not suitable for general entertainment."
The moving image collection of the MAI included these self-produced films as well as similar films purchased by the museum and film shot in the course of the museum's activities, including documentation of archaeological digs, staff, and Native visitors. In 1961-1962, recognizing the educational potential of its collection, the MAI received a grant from the National Science Foundation to transfer the original deteriorating nitrate prints to safety film, discarding film and editing prints in the process. In 2012-2014, the National Museum of the American Indian completed a transfer of the titles to Digital Betacam and DVD formats, combining footage from both original and 1961-1962-era prints to salvage as much content as possible. This work was completed with funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation, Save America's Treasures, and the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.
Access to NMAI Archive Center collections is by appointment only, Monday–Thursday, 9:30 am–4:30 pm. Please contact the archives to make an appointment (phone: 301-238-1400, email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Ceremonial images are restricted due to cultural sensitivity. Consult the archivist for further information.
Permission to publish or broadcast materials from the collection must be requested from National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center. Please submit a written request to email@example.com.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Museum of the American Indian Ethnographic Film Collection, Call Number; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.