GREAT FALLS — In collaboration with the Gathering of Families celebration, the C.M. Russell Museum hosted for a unique speaker series focused on Indigenous languages.
The speaker at the event was Jeremy Red Eagle. Red Eagle focuses his work on creating items that have cultural relevance to Dakota men and boys. Items include wood types, earth paints, as well as natural dyes.
Red Eagle's speech focused on language and culture.
"I think it just helps with individuals' identity of who they are and where they come from and that, I've always cared about," Red Eagle said. Our way of life, our traditional ways, our stories. Naturally, as you grow older, you ask more questions, you dig deeper into things, and you start to find stuff out. Language is key to that."
Charles Russell had a great appreciation for Indigenous languages and cultures, which is communicated in the legacy of his artwork.
Viewers of his artwork can often find Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL) honored within Russell’s artwork but scholarship in this area has been minimal until now.
Red Eagle said, "your viewpoint of things will change as you know the language and as you learn those things. When you listen to fluent speakers and fluently comprehend what they're talking about and the things that they share, there is the same kind of lost-in-translation."
Red Eagle discussed Russell’s portrayal of PISL in his paintings and how they played an important role in understanding the cultures that used PISL.
He also noted that one can't have language without culture: "I think that there's so many of our people that are in jeopardy of just becoming lost in society. As our way of life disappears, our language, all of those things, at what point do we ask ourselves, 'who are we?'
Red Eagle has worked with younger people to use art in reconnecting with their identity.
"There's a spiritual as well as a logical explanation of why our people didn't do certain things, and if we can go back to understanding and learning, that is going to help you as an individual," he said.