Chiefs Who Had Their Own Goals

Posted January 28, 2009 at 2:50pm

The modest photo exhibition, “A Century Ago: They Came as Sovereign Leaders,” at the National Museum of the American Indian, is hiding a different story.

The show displays snapshots of the six Native American leaders who traveled to Washington to participate in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1905.

Roosevelt “wanted to bring the chiefs [to the inauguration] to bring the people a good show,” said José Barreiro, assistant director for research at the museum.

But the six Native American leaders — Buckskin Charlie, American Horse, Quanah Parker, Geronimo, Hollow Horn Bear and Little Plume — had an agenda of their own.

They wanted to address such issues as education, self-governance and water rights. “They each brought important issues, important then and still today,” Barreiro said.

The Native American leaders received some attention for their concerns, and the exhibit displays one result — the book “Geronimo’s Story of His Life.”

As a leader of the Chiricahua Apache, Geronimo came to advocate the release of imprisoned Apaches. He wrote to Roosevelt, “Read my story and judge whether my people have been rightly treated.”

And since Geronimo dedicated his book to the president, Roosevelt had to give it his attention, Barreiro said.

Roosevelt’s opinion about Native Americans was double-edged: He could form friendships with individual Native Americans, but he strongly resisted their desire for tribal identities, according to Barreiro.

“It is great to see that 100 years later [President Barack Obama] always mentions Native Americans among blacks, Latinos,” Barreiro said.

According to Barreiro, the museum has a lot more material than the dozen pictures in the current show. And because museum- goers have expressed interest in this delegation, he will most likely create another exhibit on Geronimo and the Apaches. This exhibit will remain open until Feb. 17.