still\ˈstil \

On View

Artists Opening with Quinn Smith: November 12, 2021, 5-8pm


still\ˈstil \

Misconceptions about Indigenous peoples are as prevalent today as ever before. Mainstream media and inadequate schooling have shaped our lexicon. One of the most prominent examples of this is the use of the word “still”. For example, Indigenous peoples are still here, rather than simply here.  In many ways, still here implies that Indigenous peoples should have disappeared.

In this installation, Quinn Smith of Chickasaw Nation, uses text to challenge common misconceptions about Indigenous peoples through a combination of personal narrative and historical data. The exhibit covers the topics of land, kinship, nation, blood, theft, and genocide. The content within each of these categories overlaps and it none of it exists in isolation.  

By limiting the exhibition to the written word, Smith seeks to deny the continued misuse, acquisition, and sale of Indigenous imagery and artifacts by museums and galleries. The mock dictionary is an opportunity to relearn vocabulary; to read, reckon with and attend to the unsettling personal narrative presented by Smith.

Quinn Smith is a Chickasaw storyteller who strives to promote Indigenous truths through documentary, creative writing, and multimedia integration. He has previously worked with the All My Relations Podcast and the Indian Arts and Crafts Board on projects which integrate writing, oral history, and archival imagery. For the Duke Gardens Equity Through Stories Program, Smith created an exhibit featuring oral histories from elders and tribal members across North and South Carolina for the Gardens’ 500,000+ annual visitors. His written work has been published by the Duke Magazine, the Wellian Magazine, and will soon appear in Indian Country Today.


Call to Action

Duke University has a long history of interactions with Native American people, and not all have been positive. In the era of “kill the Indian, save the man,” Trinity College operated the Cherokee Industrial School, a residential school which committed cultural genocide against the Cherokee people. Duke University, then called Trinity College, was suffering tremendous financial hardship, and was sustained by the federal funding it received for running the school.

Today, Duke University is one of the only prestigious institutions in the US that does not have a Native Studies Program or a Native Cultural Center, despite North Carolina having one of the largest Native American populations east of the Mississippi River. We recognize that this discrepancy follows historical trends, and we ask Duke to make changes to promote healing.

This statement was written by the Duke Native American Student Alliance (NASA). For decades, NASA has advocated for Duke to provide adequate support for Native students. We hope to provide an official land acknowledgement to Duke University once it answers our calls for healing. In the meantime, it is important to acknowledge that Durham occupies the ancestral territories of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation headquartered near Hillsborough, NC. To help start the healing process, show your support by signing NASA’s petition:


This exhibit is part of the Power Plant Gallery Professional Development Award given to an undergraduate at Duke University and is curated in collaboration with Shirin Maleki, Power Plant Gallery graduate assistant. To learn more about the award and how to nominate a student visit our opportunities page.