Digital Exhibits

"In Their Own Words: Native Americans in World War I," an online exhibit organized by the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, tells the story of World War I through the words of Native American veterans who fought in the "Great War." Thousands of Native Americans, many of whom did not have citizenship rights, volunteered to fight on behalf of the United States of America.

The online exhibit provides an unedited vision into the sentiments, viewpoints, and personal experiences of over 30 Native Americans using photos, letters, and survey responses. "Fight till we couldn't fight no more. We were all shot up. My company went in the battle with 253 men and came out with 66 men. Most of them was killed; some were wounded," wrote Lewis Sanderson, documenting the toll of the war.

Some of the letters also pay tribute to two of the fallen warriors, Elson M. James and Walter R. Sevalier. Sevalier received distinction from U.S. General Pershing as one of the one hundred most heroic soldiers who fought in the war.

The exhibit's materials come from the archives of the Wanamaker Collection, which consists of 8,000 photographic images and 7,750 documents created or compiled by Joseph K. Dixon. The documents include a questionnaire that Dixon sent to Native American veterans in 1919-1920. The Wanamaker Collection contains 2,700 completed questionnaires, and Dixon used this information to demonstrate the Native Americans' commitment to the US and their support of the war effort, regardless of their citizenship status. Dixon's efforts helped create support for the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, making all US Native Americans citizens whether they welcomed that status or not.

In the Navajo way of approaching the world there are relationships, balance, and harmony in everything. People, places, animals, things, and the wider universe exist together—ideally in a state of balance and harmony often referred to as Hózhó in the Diné bizaad (Navajo) language. Often translated simply as beauty and balance, Hózhó refers to far more than the physical beauty or aesthetic of an object. It is a complicated concept that emphasizes ways in which the world is interconnected and balanced between the static and changing, the part and the whole, and the physical and spiritual. Though each individual expresses Hózhó in personal ways, we can see some outward signs of it in the Navajo weavings featured in this online exhibit. Through color, pattern, and more, ideas of Navajo beauty are woven into the very fabric itself.