“We Never Left”

Featuring Artists of Southeast Indian Tribes.

The “Discovery of the New World” unleashed centuries of disease and violence that decimated American Indian populations. But it was settler colonialism—the hunger for land that drove America’s expansion—that increasingly drove American Indians from their homelands.

For those living in the Southeast, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was its ultimate expression, resulting in the forced removal of an estimated 65,000 to “Indian Territory” west of the Mississippi (today’s Oklahoma). As many as ten thousand people are estimated to have perished on what is now remembered as the Trail of Tears.

Removal, however, was far from complete. Estimates of Indians who remained range from as few as 4,000 to as many as 14,000—a discrepancy, scholars explain, due to who government officials counted. (A reluctance to come forward was certainly understandable.)

How did they manage to stay? By fleeing to, or already living on, inaccessible or “undesirable” land. Relying on existing state or federal treaties (usually resulting in further loss of territory). Assimilating through intermarriage and acculturation. And armed resistance.

WE NEVER LEFT celebrates contemporary artists descended from these American Indians who, against all odds, remained in the Southeast. They are members of tribes who continue to live in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Their highly diverse artwork addresses a variety of issues, including cultural preservation, language revitalization, personal identity and expression, community pride, and threats to homeland and the natural environment.

Description courtesy of Ruth Grim
Chief Curator and Gary R. Libby Curator of Art, Museum of Arts and Sciences at Daytona Beach

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