The Shaman Exterminator: On the trail of the Woodcraft Indians with the Buffalo Boy Scouts of America is an exhibition that explores the history and resulting popular culture of the Woodcraft Indian movement created by Ernest Thompson Seton. Seton was a author and wild life artist who migrated to Carberry, Manitoba from the UK, then later naturalized in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he died in 1946. Seton created The League of Woodcraft Indians an American youth program; it was developed for non-Indian boys. It was later renamed the “Woodcraft League of America”, and would also allow girls to join, it is still a worldwide league. Out of the Woodcraft Indians came the Boy Scouts of America, one of the largest youth organizations in America, with 2.7 million youth members and 1 million adult members, since its inception over 110 million Americans have been members of the BSA.This exhibition is a result of a residency with Platform centre for photographic + digital arts in Winnipeg in the summer of 2012. The residency was initially to be a performance in the Spirit Sands near Carberry, Manitoba but later became a video and photographic shoot supported by both Platform and Paved Arts in Saskatoon. Platform will be publishing images and essay in an anthology with Paved Arts hosting this exhibition of new works.
My exploration of the Woodcraft Indians has lead me to various locations; from Saskatoon; to Winnipeg; to the Spirit Sands; to Santa Fe and finally Burning Man. My intent is to examine and expose the multi-leveled appropriations of Indigenous Knowledge and culture. Seton authored many books including; The Gospel of the Redman; Woodcraft and Indian Lore and Trail of the Sandhill Stag. Many of these books are direct appropriations of aboriginal stories, others are extrapolations or exaggerations of Indian lore, Seton primarily re-created these stories for white male youth, while he admired Indian life and promoted indigenous ways of being, he often layered his writing with Eurocentric Christian morality. I believe he may have been one of the first authors of New Age spiritualism.
My performance character The Shaman Exterminator, (who is Buffalo Boy’s alter ego) duty is to expose the world of “Indian” appropriation, to re-appropriate that which was appropriated; to explore the complex web of non-native Indian identity, ideology and practice in Western Culture.
This exhibition includes; video, photography, and installation; The video’s are experimental, all focusing on the Shaman Exterminators tracking of Seton’s history and further exploring the resulting cultural appropriations into our time. The large-scale photos are of the Shaman Exterminator in the Spirit Sands of Manitoba. The didactic wall installation is a historical and cultural mapping that contains both personal and inter-web images, vinyl symbols (taken from Woodcraft and Indian Lore), some text and a large-scale photo of Buffalo Boy as the “Chief” of the Buffalo Boy Scouts of America. The central installation is the Shaman Exterminator in a circle of sand watching you, smaller installations around the gallery relate to lessons in the Woodcraft and Indian Lore books of Seton which have been now appropriated by the Buffalo Boy Scouts of America.
I find the history of appropriation to be interesting, troubling and funny. Interesting in the sense that there is a genuine admiration of “Indian Life” by non-native people and how that admiration has evolved into many different movements throughout the world, including; the Boy Scouts of America; Kal May’s “German Indians”; Hippies; the white Indian actors or Hollywood; the Fashion, Consumer and Romantic novel industries; Rainbow gatherings; survivalists; Hipsters and Burning Man. There are many more groups that continue to appropriate and evolve “Indian ways and life” a troubling continuum that speaks cognitive dissonance; a state of holding two or more conflicting ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions simultaneously. It is a state of conflict or incongruity where people have a motivational drive to reduce conflict by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements, in this case the true history of the North American Indian. Yet within all this appropriation and dissonance I find humour, moments of absolute ridiculousness and the possibility that one day we will rediscover our memory and all become human beings again.
Text written by Adrian Stimson
October 23, 2012
Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Friday, Noon – 6 pm; Saturdays Noon – 4pm.
For more information, contact either: David LaRiviere, Artistic Director, PAVED arts, (306) 652-5502 ext.1
PAVED Arts and AKA Gallery: 424 20th Street West Saskatoon SK. S7M 0X4 www.pavedarts.ca
Free admission to the public with barrier-free accessibility.
PAVED Arts acknowledge the support of our members, volunteers and partners, and of our principal funders: Canada Council for the Arts, Saskatchewan Arts Board, SaskCulture, SaskLotteries.