Ancient Ways: Modern Forms was conceived as a means to find and celebrate the common ground
shared by two cultures living here in Oklahoma: Jewish and Native American. In other words, what
do the two groups share? A love of tradition? Respect for their elders? Passing on traditions such
as language, belief systems, and culturally-shaped home lives to their younger generations? Yes.
Jews are committed to caring for the earth and making it a better place to live every day, and to
caring for their fellow men in ways that uplift those who give, and those who receive.
Both cultures have suffered negative consequences for their beliefs and traditions. Jews were
expelled from country after country after losing their homeland 2,000 years ago, a persecution that
reached its pinnacle during WWII with the Holocaust. In similar circumstances, the US government
stole tribal lands and forcibly removed native populations, who were then segregated on reservation
lands, much like Jews were forced to live in segregated ghettos.
The Sherwin Miller Museum asked the artists of the Southeastern Indian Artists Association to look
at their work and consider how it might connect with the behaviors and experiences both peoples
had in common. The connections that were uncovered surprised both artists and curators.
Curator Dr. Karen York and co-curator Troy Jackson visited with regional native artists, finding that
most connections fell into two types; the importance of passing on traditions and keeping them alive,
and the shared experiences of diaspora and persecution.
During certain periods of history, both peoples were forced to hide their traditional practices and
teach them in secret, as the nations and cultures that were dominant forced both groups to
assimilate into the greater populations, using methods such as religious persecution or the lure of
citizen's rights. Both peoples are now actively reclaiming their languages and traditions, adapting
them to contemporary life, and assuring their futures.
In a multicultural, post-colonial world, these traditions are being recognized as the links to our cultural
history, and the importance placed on their preservation is guided by those who kept them alive as
the modern world tried to sweep them away. As you tour this exhibit, consider traditions in your own
culture, what seems lost, and the significance of just one person recovering one tradition and
passing it on.