The Sun, the Moon, and the Clock: The Evolution of Native-American Clock Consciousness
In 1911, Edward Curtis photographed Little Plume and Yellow Kidney in their Montana lodge surrounded by their belongings. Originally, their belongings included a pipe, tobacco board, feathers, ropes, medicine bundle, and an alarm clock. When the negative went to print, however, Curtis erased the alarm clock from the photograph he titled “In a Piegan Lodge.” The omission was deliberate. The clock signaled to Curtis, and whites of his era, a modernity, and sophistication incompatible with the assumed savageness of Native-Americans. Regardless of how whites viewed Natives, Indians certainly had timepieces by the 20th century. The question remains how did Indians come to own timepieces and how did they incorporate mechanical time into their understanding and use of time. This paper represents a departure from traditional studies of Native-American cultures and societies. It is an unconventional attempt to bind together different aspects of Native-American interactions with Europeans and later Americans in order to investigate how Native-Americans understood and used time and how those understandings and usages evolved over time to include, by the early 20th century, clocks and watches. In essence, how Native-Americans became clock conscious, and thus modern, in a world that refused to see them as such.
Keywords: Native-American, Temporality, Identity
Dr Cheryl A. Wells
Assistant Professor, University of Wyoming, History