Koshare Indian Museum, appropriation and engineering
July 1, 2017 11:07 PM   Subscribe

La Junta, Colorado is home to the Koshare Kiva, a unique structure that was imagined in 1939 and built over a decade later, where Boy Scout Troop 232 of La Junta and an affiliated co-ed venturing crew can work to be part of the Koshare Indian Dancers, who learn and perform their version of Hopi, Lakota, Kiowa, Ojibwe, Blackfoot, Diné and Comanche religious ceremonies. Beyond this appropriation or theft from native people, the kiva itself is impressive as it is the largest self-supported log roof in the world. In fact, it's a reciprocal frame roof of 620 or 647 repurposed telephone poles. If you're interested in how such a roof is built, here's a Tony Wrench in a video and written form describing how to build one.

Koshare is one of the five Hopi Pueblo clown figures. In December 2015, Koshare Dancers canceled their Winter Night Dances, after they received a formal request from the Cultural Preservation Office of the Hopi Nation asking that the troop discontinue their interpretation of the dances of the Hopi and Pueblo Native Americans.

The kiva is decorated with murals by Zia Pueblo artist Velino Shije Herrera. The Herrera murals were painted and placed in the Kiva in 1949 and are the only known large murals remaining of this renowned Zia Pueblo artist, which were restored and conserved in 2012. The museum also houses an extensive collection of Native American art, purchased and donated to the collection by Boy Scouts over the decades.

If you want to try your hand at a smaller scale reciprocal frame roof, The Year of Mud has another tutorial with bonus links and some decent comments, and there discussions of some specific construction details on Survivalist Boards and Perimes.
posted by filthy light thief (23 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
The construction method of Brunelleschi's dome provides an interesting complement to that of the kiva.
posted by fairmettle at 12:20 AM on July 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


This is uncomfortable reading. The koshare dancers seem so proud of what they're doing, so earnest ... so naive.
posted by Azara at 1:46 AM on July 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


The design is beautiful, but am I correct in supposing that if a single beam fails the whole structure collapses?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:27 AM on July 2, 2017


This is really an interesting design, but not really seeing the whole point to using it vis a vis sustainable building as per the video.
posted by Samizdata at 2:35 AM on July 2, 2017


It's hard to separate the building's architecture from the appropriation and theft that forms its foundation.
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:55 AM on July 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


"wore out three slide rules" - really?
posted by mbo at 3:15 AM on July 2, 2017


This is uncomfortable reading. The koshare dancers seem so proud of what they're doing, so earnest ... so naive.

Now that BSA is getting with the times, I'd like to see them retire the various dance teams. The OA ceremonies were so cool to me as a kid but are embarrassing to think about now.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 3:29 AM on July 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


As we grow older we must put childish things aside. That isn't to say that we should despise them or deny the place they had in our heart, but these things have served their purpose and have not grown as we have grown. To cling to childish things would be a betrayal of the good they possessed, the tender companionship which helped us grow beyond them.

We are older than our parents and grandparents, just as we are older than our earlier selves. We have grown beyond the stage in which openness can be expressed by cultural appropriation. Then, the appropriation was a bridge between "us" and "them". Now, it's a barrier, a way of cementing the difference between the ones who can take and the ones who must endure. By setting appropriated things aside we are being true to the good feelings that led us to adopt them in the first place.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:53 AM on July 2, 2017 [15 favorites]


My father grew up a few towns down the road, and was active in Boy Scouts. The following is all seond hand hearsay, but locally they were referred to as "The Feather Stompers" because they had a reputation for being a bunch self-important prats. The group also had a reputation of awarding the Eagle scout rank a lot more freely than most other troops. It was apparently silently tolerated by the higher organization because they were famous and brought in a lot of good PR for the scouts.

I did visit the museum once when I was young, and slept in the kiva during a scouting trip of my own when I was 13. The interplay of Native American appropriation and the Boy Scouts is a rough one. I was active in Order of the Arrow when I was a scout, and at the time I thought it was cool to dress up and perform all of these ceremonies while wearing headdresses. I have grown up since then.
posted by Badgermann at 5:10 AM on July 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


The architecture/engineering is interesting, but for the cultural appropriation side of things, perhaps the most generous statement would be "that was a different era." Oddly, not everyone seems to have realized that times have changed.

From the junior college link in the FPP:

Priceless pottery is used throughout the Kiva as light fixtures. Rocks used in ancient Native American kivas over two thousand years ago protrude from the inside walls.

And they say this so proudly!
posted by Dip Flash at 5:45 AM on July 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


mbo: "wore out three slide rules" - really?

Yeah, that was one (of the many) things that caught my eye in the various narratives about the kiva:
Damon Runyon asked an engineer who helped design the Golden Gate Bride to help compute the stress factor of the logs. Runyon wore out three slide rules trying to figure out the stress factor for the logs and came to the conclusion that white pine poles would be the best solution for the weight.
This is the most interesting phrase to indicate a really tough engineering problem.


Dip Flash: The architecture/engineering is interesting, but for the cultural appropriation side of things, perhaps the most generous statement would be "that was a different era." Oddly, not everyone seems to have realized that times have changed.

These were my thoughts exactly. Some older relatives visited this recently, and and I was really interested in this after hearing about the kiva roof design. But they also mentioned the dances the Boy Scouts did in full regalia, which made me pretty uncomfortable, though my relatives didn't notice this, or feel like it was a particularly ugly form of appropriation and theft.

For a heartbreaking bit of context, here's an excerpt from the Indian Country Today article:
At the time the Koshare Dancers were starting up their “Papooses” and “Clan Chiefs,” the practice of Native religion by Native Americans was a criminal act. While Boy Scouts learned how to play Indian, actual Native children were being taken from their families to undergo forced and often brutality-laced assimilation.
That article also has some more history of the Boy Scouts trying to appease Native groups by showing them the dances and all the effort the kids put into it, including the recent decision to not perform their Winter Night Dances, and it's clear that the current BSA troop leadership isn't ready to end this.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:36 AM on July 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


while borrowing without permission is certainly "appropriation", I don't think sharing traditions among groups is necessarily "theft", it can be a positive attempt at appreciation, a chance to pull oneself out of one's existing cultural clothing and walk a bit in someone else's moccassins so to speak.

I see this same opinion was mentioned with the recent Portland burrito brouhaha:

“I, in general, do not think appropriation is a bad thing. There’s all this discussion about cultural appropriation. Should we all be imprisoned in our little holes, with our cultural walls, completely closed off to others? If you are eating another’s food, engaging with their lives, engaging with their ways of conceiving the world, that is a welcome engagement. That is how newness enters the world.”[1]

When I was a cub scout our native Hawaiian ass't den mother taught us a "warrior dance" that we performed at the monthly meeting once. 30 years later I see the NZ rugby team performing the same "KAMATE KAMETE . . ." dance and I thought it was cool how the polynesian cultural triangle really did extend from NZ to Hawaii.

this is not to say that aforementioned "appropriation" can't cheapen or give insult to existing cultural properties like sacred rites and their accoutrements, and in the modern world pop culture is worthless on its face so e.g. the 'rockabilly gangs' of Yoyogi Park aren't taking anything that isn't free to take already.

It is possible to be too PC.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 9:03 AM on July 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Heywood Mogroot III: When I was a cub scout our native Hawaiian ass't den mother taught us a "warrior dance" that we performed at the monthly meeting once.

For me, there's a difference between a Native person teaching non-Native kids a dance, and a non-Native guy copying religious ceremonies with non-Native kids. And when those Native people whose dances and ceremonies you have copied ask you to stop doing that, I think it's time to stop, instead of saying "hey, you're misunderstanding our use of your cultural practices."

I can see it'll be hard for some to replace something that now has decades of local tradition, but that is a blink of an eye compared to the centuries of tradition that they're copying/ appropriating/ stealing.

To flip the scenario around, how do you think the Vatican would feel if some group copied Catholic ceremonies, or a group of kids who were not Jewish were taught to mimic Orthodox Jewish traditions? How would that look and be treated?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:14 AM on July 2, 2017 [8 favorites]


I believe a cross link to a prior thread on Karl May and a wikipedia link on associated European cultural responses seem appropriate. Strange that we seem never to have had a thread specifically on the latter.
posted by mwhybark at 10:27 AM on July 2, 2017


I believe a cross link to a prior thread on Karl May and a wikipedia link on associated European cultural responses seem appropriate. Strange that we seem never to have had a thread specifically on the latter.

The European cowboys-and-Indians cosplay stuff is fascinating and not totally unrelated, but it's kind of like your favorite tone deaf uncle, almost charming in its weirdly off-kilter earnestness. (The European trade in, and refusal to repatriate, sensitive cultural items is distinctly less charming, but that's a different issue.)

The US versions (like in this FPP) feel different to me, because they are being done on land that was tribally-controlled for millennia, and, as one of the links notes, the appropriation was being done contemporaneously with state suppression of tribal cultures.

Like I said above, those were different times and I don't mean to disparage what people at the time may have thought was sensitive and well-meant homage rather than appropriation. But just as museums have had to rethink collecting and displaying Native corpses and religious artifacts, this seems like a marker of another era that is getting increasingly out of step with the present.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:54 AM on July 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think "cultural appropriation" shouldn't necessarily be used for all cases of cultural exchange, blending, or influence. The non-cultural appropriation of something is to take without permission, or without considering the needs of the owner, and I think an over broad application of it is partially what leads to the "but what's so bad about cultural appropriation" viewpoint. This is a quite clear cut case of it, obviously.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:08 AM on July 2, 2017


the kiva itself is impressive as it is the largest self-supported log roof in the world. In fact, it's a reciprocal frame roof of 620 or 647 repurposed telephone poles.

Oh my god, the stuff they treat those with!

Maybe some researcher will have the guts to look at rates of early onset Parkinson's among the adults those kids grew into, but I'm not holding my breath.
posted by jamjam at 12:02 PM on July 2, 2017


Slight sidetrack here:
Another large Indian dance pavilion with a circular pole roof in Elmo MT - work of art
https://tdhengineering.com/projects/elmo-powwow-war-dance-pavilion/

Ken Kern of the "OwnerBuilt Home" may have designed a dance pavilion with a circular roof built in Tesuque NM.
posted by Mesaverdian at 3:24 PM on July 2, 2017


To flip the scenario around, how do you think the Vatican would feel if some group copied Catholic ceremonies, or a group of kids who were not Jewish were taught to mimic Orthodox Jewish traditions? How would that look and be treated?

Not to belabor the point, but there's a weird Christian sect who call themselves "Messianic Jews" and they do exactly this. I've never encountered them, but most other Jews I've talked to about them find it insulting.
posted by dialMforMara at 6:22 PM on July 2, 2017


While it is changing the leadership in my sons boy scout troup is overwhelming Christian and thinks BSA is and should be Christian based.

When you take from anothers religion while also teaching their religion is inferior you're not growing together with them, or respecting them, or learning from them- you're taking from anothers spiritual gifts while insulting the worth of the deities and spirits who provide these gifts. If you want to invite them into your life are you willing to hear what THEY want from YOU- like to return stolen lands, to care for the people they served thousands of years longer than the immigrant generation, to restore access of the native people to the sacred and healing sites, to the gathering places and fertile lands where there is the health and sustenance within the earth to care for her children? It not about lighting a fire and asking spirits to perform for you or make you feel magical or powerful- true power comes from worthy purpose and teaching what it even means to have honor and purpose that the divine might be present within us to provide aid is missing when the BSA doesn't even have contact or learning from the actual living tribes or teach about tribal issues and how to be a servant and empower and be an ally on those issues with respect to tribal sovereignty and wishes.


The BSA can't teach honor or respect if they don't know what those words even mean. But perhaps they can learn. We all have lessons we need to learn and ways we need to grow.
posted by xarnop at 6:47 PM on July 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


Yeah, this current Christian emphasis in the BSA is extremely off-putting to this old Scout. But back to the Koshares, I just read Behind the Zuni Masks, a 1958 YA by Val Gendron, required reading if you're interested. I was, naturally, since I saw the show there twice. A lot of guys did back then, stopping there during the multi-night bus trip to Philmont. Afterwards, we all bedded down and slept on the floor of the kiva.
posted by Rash at 10:02 PM on July 2, 2017


Oh man, this reminds me of the most recent family reunion a couple of months ago when I was surprised to hear that the Koshares were still (apparently) going, since I'd assumed that there was no way in this day-and-age that white people would still be willingly appropriating another culture for the amusement of other white people (yeah, I know, I'm hopelessly naive). I didn't bother pressing the point to keep the peace in the family (there's also a blanket "no politics" rule), but I was like "well of course the Native Americans want to shut it down, I don't see how this is even a debate."

My father and my uncle were in the Koshares back in the 60's. It meant a lot to both of them, based on the stories I've grown up with. It was a place that my nerdy, awkward father who never fit in anywhere could find somewhere he felt like belonged. He actually became an "Eagle Chief" (aka Eagle Scout) but my uncle only made it to "Brave." Somewhere in storage is a box with the outfit my dad made by hand in as "authentic" a manner as possible -- oh, the stories I've heard about the hours spent hand-beading. I don't think there's a full headdress, though. My dad has lots of stories of touring the country and putting on performances with the Koshares, even though he was never a really good dancer and was often relegated to other roles. The wildest story I remember him telling was when they were hired to be background actors in some sort of "Cowboys and Indians" movie.

Buck, the guy that founded the Koshares, had a huge impact on my father's life as an awkward adolescent in that kind of mentorship way that most people would hope come from being a part of the Boy Scouts. Not like my dad and Buck were really close, in fact, Buck apparently could never remember my father's name, which is why my dad was stunned when he took his then-girlfriend (eventual wife and the woman who would be my mother) on a visit down there in the early 80's, he was shocked when Buck recognized him and greeted him by name (and then proceeded to give the woman-who-would-be-my-mother a private tour of the museum, even letting her try shooting one of the blow darts, which yes is another famous story in my family).

I have a vague recollection of visiting the kiva when I was a kid, but I think I was too young to really remember what I was experiencing. I do remember seeing the Koshares dance at some Boy Scout event in the '90s. I guess because I'd only heard of the Koshares in stories from the past I naturally assumed that it would have petered out once Buck passed away.

At the family reunion, the Koshares came up for whatever reason stories of the past come up, and the majority of my family tried to convince me that Buck was just trying to preserve the culture and the dances, and was considered an honorary chief from the various tribes he worked with, and had a great love and respect for the Native culture. Which could be true -- a product of the time, etc, giving "respect" a different name. But there's still that insidious "white man saving the culture after white man tried to destroy it" sense about it all. There shouldn't be a need for some white guy to preserve the Native dances because those dances shouldn't have been stolen in the first place and the Native people forbidden to live their culture.

Anyway, thanks for this post, since I've never heard of the Koshares brought up except in stories around the extended-family dinner table.
posted by paisley sheep at 10:27 PM on July 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


This is very interesting to me because my dad, a white guy born in 1948, was in what sounds like a very similar group as a boy. He lived in Wichita, Kansas and took part in many large dance demonstrations. When I was a kid, he told us all about it, including sharing the hoop he used for dancing and his other regalia... including an eagle-talon necklace and a chieftain's war bonnet that I think was also made of eagle feathers. I can't remember whether he made both of those himself.

All this time, I've been careful to say that he was doing this in a way that had been well researched and respectful. That was a source of pride to me. He wasn't painting random stripes on his body and doing war whoops; he had (and continues to have) so much respect for the individual nations and traditions involved. He became an anthropology major and a park ranger at Mesa Verde, and he encouraged me and my brother to attend powwows and learn about things directly from people we knew from those tribes.

But however that dancing came about, I know he knew there was a part of it that was wrong. He donated the necklace and the bonnet to an anthropology museum to make sure the eagle feathers and talons were treated responsibly as restricted items.

It's nowhere near enough.
posted by St. Hubbins at 11:05 AM on July 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


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