Zig Jackson

Tribal Veterans

  Aug. 10 - Aug. 31, 2012

Opening Reception
Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012, 2-5 p.m.

Andrew Smith Gallery at 122 Grant Ave., Santa Fe, NM  87501 next to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, celebrates 2012 Indian Market with the fascinating exhibit "Tribal Veterans" by Native American photographer Zig Jackson. The exhibition opens on Friday, Aug. 10 and runs through Aug. 31, 2012.

The weekend of Indian Market Mr. Jackson will be on hand to meet the public at an opening reception on Saturday, Aug. 18 from 2 to 5 p.m.

Zig Jackson was raised on a reservation in North Dakota and is an enrolled member of three affiliated tribes: Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. "Tribal Veterans" is his insider's look at the way Native American communities honor their veterans and the families of veterans. Photographs in the exhibit were taken on many reservations around the U.S. including Little Shell, Montana; Crow Agency, Montana; Rocky Boy, Montana; and Fort Berthold, North Dakota. They date from the mid-1990s when Jackson first started photographing veteran ceremonies, to 2010. Also on exhibit are pictures from Jackson's series about Indian consumerism (souvenir and food stands) and reservation road markers.

Zig Jackson lives in Savannah, Georgia where he teaches photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design. During the summer months he often packs his car with camera equipment and heads for places throughout the United States that have special meaning to Native Americans. When Jackson was young he had an intense desire to meet as many Native People as he could. Over the years he has done so in New Mexico, Arizona, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Utah, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and elsewhere. Exposed to so many different tribal groups he has gained considerable perspective on issues important to Indian people, as well as learning some important rules of thumb that he calls "proper Native American etiquette." Thus, he tends to be warmly welcomed wherever he goes and invited into homes to rest and eat.

Indian tribal groups are as culturally diverse as the regions they inhabit, distinguished from each other by appearance, language, and social mannerisms. And yet all share the reality of being, at times, strangers in what was once their own land, living in the aftermath of a vanished frontier and government policies that forced them from their homelands and onto reservations. In the straightforward photographic style of Robert Frank, Jackson captures the world of contemporary Indians, touching upon complex issues of tourism, marketing, myth, traditions, and stereotyping. In Jackson's photographs eagle feathers collide with hot dogs stands, road signs recall vanished animal herds, and ancient traditions remain surprisingly intact, or are sold for profit.


Native Americans believe that one of the noblest callings a person can have is to be warrior. To guard the camp, to touch the enemy, is to acquire both greatness and power. This is why tribal people on reservations throughout the U.S. pay great reverence to the culture of warriors, be they soldiers or military personnel.

When Jackson was a boy growing up on a North Dakota reservation he watched with awe and a little jealousy as his family and friends ceremonially honored the tribe's veterans each year. Later, when he was a young man studying photography at the University of New Mexico in the mid-1990s he began a lifelong pursuit of photographing Native veterans during these Indian Ceremonies.

A number of the photographs in the exhibit were taken on the Rocky Boy reservation in northern Montana in the summer of 2004 when Jackson was traveling up the Missouri River in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, whose historic journey had begun 200 years earlier. Jackson reached Havre, Montana in August in time to photograph the grand entry of the Rocky Boy Pow Wow marking the start of the annual three day celebration. Indian veterans who had fought in the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the Afghanistan War, or who had served in the armed service opened the event with dances and then, according to protocol, were the first to eat, followed by the tribal elders. Anyone who has served in the military is honored at these events, even the local winos who have little status in the community otherwise. All veterans are treated with respect and given status on this occasion. This is something, says Jackson, which you see on all the reservations.

Jackson's pictures show how easily participants combine generations-old traditions, including vintage clothing and objects like feathered headdresses, tunics sewn with elk teeth and Pendelton blankets, with conventional clothing, uniforms, flags and modern accouterments. Not surprisingly there has been little change to the ceremonies themselves from when Jackson first started photographing them in 1994-95.

Each morning veterans ceremonially raise the United States and tribal flags and at day's end they lower them. Families who have lost someone in the line of duty see their flags flown honoring a deceased vet. In some cases, the deceased may be a historical figure. In Little Shell, North Dakota people honor a great warrior who was an Indian scout for the cavalry. His descendants still have his songs that he acquired when he returned from battles. His clan honors his memory with a dance and a give away, which is an hour and a half of giving away their good blankets or hosting a meal for all the veterans. Giving things away is deeply embedded in Native American culture. In keeping with this value, Jackson has always been generous with the photographs he takes, giving them as gifts to his subjects who, at times, are moved to tears by the gift of a photograph.

Jackson still makes his pictures with conventional camera film. At the college in Savannah he scans the negatives as digital files and prints them as Archival Pigment Prints. Currently he is culling through thousands of negatives in preparation for an upcoming book.


"Tribal Flag Song, Little Shell, Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation, ND, 1995

Jackson was a photography student at the University of New Mexico when he took this photograph with a Hasselblad camera of a Grand Entry. The procession of men wearing feathered headdresses walking toward the photographer are all veterans from Desert Storm, Vietnam and Korea. A small boy with a feathered headdress stands in the foreground. The spectators must stand until the veterans have raised the flag and then people will start dancing. In this dignified ceremony the little boy actually should not be where he is, which is why the vets are scowling at him.

Zig"War Mothers, Howard and Leroy Crow Flies High, Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation, ND, 1995

Howard and Leroy Crow Flies High escort three dignified elderly women, one wearing a fringed shawl. The men are dressed in both traditional garb and military uniform. Flags in the background include a P.O.W. and a tribal flag. The mother of Howard and Leroy had passed away and on this occasion her sisters were dancing in her honor and also to support Howard and Leroy who were both in Vietnam.

Zig"Howard Crow Flies High and Jimmy Johnson, Veterans, ND", 2005

Veterans Howard Crow Flies High and Jimmy Johnson emerge from a Pathfinder camper decorated with American Flags. They were among a group of veterans from nearly 50 posts around the United States who came together some years ago to honor the Hopi woman soldier and mother, Lori Piestewa, who was killed following an ambush near Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Zig"Ladies Auxiliary, Fort Berthod Indian Reservation, ND," 2006

Eight women and one very traditional looking young girl wearing identical fringed shawls represent the Fort Berthod Ladies Auxiliary. The Auxiliary is a formal organization that sometimes donates money for the families of the deceased. Jackson took a dignified but at the same time relaxed portrait of the members. Their identical shawls represent the badge of their order and each has a huge emblem on the back identifying this particular Ladies Auxiliary Post. These women are the aunts, cousins or other family members of vets who have passed away. Through their dancing they are acknowledging and supporting veterans, both alive and deceased.

Zig"Mary Jane Bird, Crow Fair, Crow Agency, Montana", 1991

Mary Jane Bird is a member of the Crow tribe whose veteran husband passed away. The strong looking, middle-aged woman on horseback holds an eagle wing in her hand, which is considered a high honor. Mary Jane Bird wears a colorful traditional skirt and sits on a fine, hand-woven saddle blanket. Her elk tooth shirt is probably a family treasure. When an elk is killed only its two front teeth are extracted, so an elk tooth shirt represents many killed elk. Such garments are handed down through time from the grandmothers who made them.

"Veterans Giving Back the Flag, Ft. Berthold, ND," 2007

This ceremony has to do with returning the family flags. On the grassy the parade ground men and woman walk in procession as the men carry folded flags that they are about to return to people who lost family members in the line of duty. This is part of a day long ceremony that starts at sunrise when the flags are flown, and ends at sunset when the veterans formally lower and fold the flags before returning them to family members. When Indian veterans take down the flags the tribal drum group sings a song, usually at sunset. In between these somber rituals people enjoy feasting and giving away gifts.

"Thomas Yellow Tail, Crow Honor Dance, Crow Agency, MT," 1996 Zig

A procession of three men carrying an American flag and a tribal flag circle the parade ground. They wear a mixture of traditional feathered headdresses, hand decorated clothing, and army fatigues. A soldier in a smart military dress uniform whose face is etched with sorrow follows them.

"Skye Fox, (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara), Rocky Boy Reservation, Montana," 2002

At the Rocky Boys Pow Wow Jackson was waiting for the vets to arrive and the dances to begin when a woman came up and asked if he would photograph her daughter dressed in beautiful traditional clothing. He took the portrait of the proud young woman named Skye Fox who appears very regal in the picture. Later he gave the photograph to her mother who had it framed and gave it to her daughter as a graduation gift.



Zig"Entering Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation, NM" 2007
"Entering Acoma Indian Reservation, NM, 1995
"Entering Omaha Indian Reservation, NE, 2005

For many years Jackson has been working on a series of reservation signs from around the United States and has now documented over 80 signs. One thing is constant about these signs, says Jackson. They are located in very desolate places. He adds wryly, "the government put us out there on barren lands so they didn't have to deal with us. But we got the best lands, and sure enough, each tribe is sitting on top of a lot of valuable minerals and natural gas. Now the government wants them back!"

Zig"What Meriwether Lewis Said, ND" 2010 ZIG/1253

Over 200 years ago, while William Clark was exploring the Yellowstone, Meriwether Lewis took a different route during which he visited a Chippewa-Cree tribe whose settlement came to be called Rocky Boy. The original name of the area was "Stone Child," named for a leader of the small band of Chippewas, but it was mistranslated into English and the name "Rocky Boy" stuck. Jackson's photograph of a weathered sign placed above a beautiful, distant and unspoiled landscape in North Dakota is a poignant reminder of the past, as well as a document of the present. The sign reads:



Zig Jackson was raised on a reservation in North Dakota and is an enrolled member of three affiliated tribes: Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. His work has been exhibited widely and he has been a guest lecturer and artist at Stanford University and The Smithsonian Institution. After attending the photography program at the University of New Mexico, Jackson moved from rural New Mexico to San Francisco, an experience he later described as profoundly alienating. He articulated his feelings of isolation and the need to claim a space for himself in a series of silver print photographs titled Entering Zig's Indian Reservation. Each photograph was taken at a well-known site around San Francisco where Jackson stood next to an official looking sign with the words, "Entering Zig's Indian Reservation," followed by a list of rules. Wearing a full Indian headdress and sunglasses, Jackson "occupies" a world whose culture and belief systems are, at times, vastly at odds with his own. Underlying the humor, his images speak about the plight of Native Americans who have become strangers in their own land. The tension between Jackson's paradoxical role of outcast and conqueror contributes to the irony of the photographs. Added to this is the fact that under Jackson's direction anonymous bystanders took the photographs. Underlying their genuine humor, Jackson's photographs address complex issues confronting contemporary Native Americans involving identity, land rights, indigenous sovereignty, and cultural ambiguity.

Liz Kay

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