Art, İndigenous, Decolonize

Art, İndigenous

Ma's House Is Making Space for Indigenous Artists and Preserving Native History

“When people enter Ma's House they just feel so welcome, and it feels like a clean energy when they arrive.”

10/20/2021 12:35:00 AM

Ma's House is making space for Indigenous artists and preserving Native history on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation ✨❤️➡️

“When people enter Ma's House they just feel so welcome, and it feels like a clean energy when they arrive.”

KAT_SLOOTSKYMa is Jeremy’s maternal grandmother, Loretta Silva. He recalled one of his favorite stories about her, when his mother would ask Ma if she had a plan for the house after she passed, what she wanted the family to do, to which Ma would insist, "No, I'm going to live forever. I'm going to be immortal." When she was finally convinced to devise a more practical plan, she came up with something as living and breathing as immortality itself: "It should be a museum that is dedicated to Shinnecock's history, to our family history." That is one of many stories entwined in the walls and floorboards of Ma’s House. His grandmother’s wish for the house is something that Jeremy is confident in achieving. “As an artist, I think that I can definitely accomplish that. I already have a passion for exploring our history and representing it,” he said.

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KAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYThe Shinnecock people are a tightly woven community, so much so that our photoshoot felt almost like a reunion of sorts, friends telling stories of what they’ve been up to, recounting memories from school. On the day of the shoot, a few were even talking about passing by the house and noticing it had been painted a new color. The house was one that people on the rez had long recognized, so they’ve also had the fun of watching it transform, Jeremy said. “Early on [during the renovation], we had our tribal trustees actually come down and just walk inside. That's such a common thing that happens,” he said. “People see there's people down here, there's work going on, there's noise. They just come up—they don't have to knock—they just come right into the front door. When people enter Ma's House they just feel so welcome, and it feels like a clean energy when they arrive.”

KAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYThe concept of a museum and a community art space is an interesting one. Of the collections in today’s museums, so much is comprised of stolen goods and sacred objects. Jeremy’s project doubles as an opportunity to redirect those archival practices; to not only tell Shinnecock stories but also to center and honor Shinnecock traditions. Jeremy has an MFA, and he’s no stranger to the traditional fine art world. But, he said, so much is broken.

KAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKY“Even around here in Suffolk County, New York, there's a lot of museums that really need to repatriate some of their objects, especially when they relate to Indigenous communities,” Jeremy says. “A lot of museums, their sole collection is almost entirely burial offerings, things that were in the ground to honor someone's ancestors and they dug those up. They brought them, in some cases, halfway around the world. In some cases, they were just local burial sites that they desecrated and put into museums and on display.”

KAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYIt’s almost hard to decide if the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s juxtaposition to those nearby Hamptons vacation mansions is laughable or insulting. So much of the general understanding of Shinnecock people in Southampton is completely off-base. Which is perhaps annoying on its own. It starts to get a bit more sinister when profits are made off of those misunderstandings of their heritage.

KAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYAround here in the Hamptons, there's a lot of misrepresentation of Native culture,” Jeremy says. “Trying to make us look exotic in some ways. And so just walking through town like on Main Street or Jobs Lane in Southampton, you can sometimes see teepees even though we never lived in teepees in this region. I think people just know that Shinnecock existed in some vague capacity and want to capitalize that in some way. So the sad thing is that when Shinnecock tribal members walk through our local town, there are no Shinnecock-owned businesses. At the same time, there are businesses named after Shinnecock that really don't contribute to the nation. They just use the name.”

KAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYOn top of those misdirected profits and those inappropriately named businesses, native people living on reservations struggle to secure loans with American banks. And though community and family support has been paramount, so many pain points in developing and renovating Ma’s House would have been alleviated if banks were willing to give loans, Jeremy says. “The architecture of Ma's House, for example, is built room by room. That's why it kind of looks like Lego pieces where everything's just attached to each other really awkwardly. Most of the people on the reservation just build in that same style of like, ‘Okay, you have a thousand dollars now, I can build this wall or I'll have to save up for five years to even start a project.’”

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KAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYKAT_SLOOTSKYFor that reason and so many more, it matters for there to be community resources like Ma’s House, made by and primarily for Indigenous people. And as long as that inequity exists, it matters for all of us, Indigenous allies especially, to support and invest in it.

“We still have a lot of work to do to represent Indigenous communities correctly. Work alongside one another to put those objects back in the ground,” he continued. “And I think there's so much more room for contemporary voices to fill those spaces.”

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'It should be a museum that is dedicated to Shinnecock's history, to our family history.' - artist Jeremy Dennis on his vision for Ma's House

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