Associate editor note: This article is a narrative of sorts outlining my investigation to discover the name of the Native man in a headdress in a photo posted by the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt.
Last week, the Weltkulturen Museum in the city of Frankfurt, Germany, posted a photograph of an unidentified Native man wearing a plains-style headdress on Facebook asking to identify the man by name.
The man was in a poster that was slotted to be part of a museum exhibit titled: PLAKATIERT! Reflexionen des indigenen Nordamerika or roughly translated: Posted! Reflections of Indigenous North America. According to the curators, the exhibit contains posters of Native Americans in the 1970s mentioned in health, art, education, and religion and was compiled students at Goethe University.
As a result of the museum’s Facebook post, I posted a story in Indian Country Today outlining the efforts of the museum to identify the man.
I did some investigation and discovered the man to be a highly-respected Oglala Lakota elder. His name was Frank Fools Crow.
The investigative process
On the Thursday after the article, I was contacted by NPR who wished to do a story based on the importance of putting a name to a face - specifically in regards to Indian Country.
That same day, I had reached out to the museum to let them know a story in Indian Country Today had been posted. I also sent another email asking for a copy of the full poster in hopes to gain a bit of background in identifying the man.
Based on the image initially posted by the museum, I suspected the gentleman might be Lakota, due to his style of headdress and also suspected he was not just “dressing up as a Native person,” due to the proper and respectful look of his regalia and beadwork. I thought he might be from Porcupine, Pine Ridge or Standing Rock, but wasn’t certain.
On Friday morning, a few hours before the NPR interview, I received an email from Dr. Markus Lindner, the curator of the museum exhibit.
Here is part of his email response:
Dear Mr. Schilling
I am the curator of this exhibition, which is the student’s project at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Goethe University. My students and I were pleased to hear that you featured our search at Indian Country Today and it is also nice to hear that you will talk about it on National Public Radio...Our focus is on such from and specifically for “Indian Country”, which means poster[s] by indigenous organizations and groups and such from non-Native organization – like the Indian Health Service and others – that aim to Native people. They include topics like health, violence, alcohol, powwow, military, identity and heritage, art, politics, rights, education and language. The posters mainly from three private collections, but were not collected systematically. Therefore, we can only mention topics that are on the posters. However, we have more than 400 posters to pick from, which gives us a good range of topics. The oldest posters are from 1970s, the newest from 2018 and they derive from almost all regions of North America. Some poster[s] were sent to me from Native American friends specially for the exhibition.
Here is the poster sent from Dr. Lindner:
The poster described a traditional Sun Dance celebration organized by the Bicentennial Program as well as Birgil Kills Straight. Mr. Kills Straight was a widely respected elder in Indian Country. I recently posted a memorial article on Mr Kills Straight who had recently passed. In addition, Dave Archambault Sr. had posted an additional article on Mr. Kills Straight.
I sent Mr. Archambault Sr. an email. He promptly gave me a call.
“Mr. Schilling, this is Dave Archambault. Sr. The man is Frank Fools Crow.”
We talked for a while, and he told me Frank Fools Crow was Oglala Lakota and had had a tremendous amount of respect in the community. He told me a few stories and also mentioned that the other man on the poster, Noble Red Man, was another respected man and that both men were longtime friends and where one man went, so did the other.
All of this took place an hour after receiving the poster, and an hour before the pre-recorded NPR interview.
On Sunday, the interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition, hosted by Lulu Garcia-Navarro, posted to the site and aired nationally.
An extract of the interview:
Lulu Garcia-Navarro: Let me ask you, how important is it to find out about people like the man depicted on this poster?
Vincent Schilling: It's huge. And it's not very often, Lulu, that people seek to step outside of the stereotypical boundaries of a Native person and actually say, who is this gentleman? Let's find out who he is. Let's know about him, his name.
Lulu Garcia-Navarro: Does it say something about how Native Americans were treated in this country and others? I mean, this is in Germany - that we didn't know who this person was, that there's no record or name given.
Vincent Schilling: Right. Well, I'm Akwesasne Mohawk. And a lot of people don't even know what that means. My specific community is Canadian First Nations as well as Native American Mohawk. So there are so many little nuances that we hold dear that people don't realize there is any specificity involved.
You can listen to the episode here:
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling