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2001 posthumous awardee, Ann Arbor (Washtenaw County), documenter of Woodland Indian dance & culture and founder of the discipline of dance ethnology
Gertrude Kurath (1903-92) was a pioneer in dance ethnology whose groundbreaking contributions to Native American studies, anthropology, ethnomusicology, and dance enriched present and future native peoples as well as scholars. Her work with native peoples included studies of music and dance, based on fieldwork among the Iroquois in New York and Canada, the Central Algonquians (Odawa, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Muskouten, Sauk, Fox, Menominee, and Miami) in the Great Lakes region, Pueblo villages in New Mexico, and in Mexico. Her documents contain detailed accounts of dance movements and examination of dance as an expression of culture. Her studies of native dance established what is known today as dance ethnology.
Gertrude's incredible work with Michigan's native cultures is made even more valuable by her carefully compiled records on music, ritual, and dance that span four decades (1940s-1980s). These records preserve the cultural context and explanations of events with the voices of many native elders, sounds, diagrams, and films. In addition to numerous books, articles, comments, and reviews, there are field notes, tapes of field music recordings, LP recordings, colored and black-and-white film, photographs, slides, musical and choreographic transcriptions, and texts in sung and spoken native languages with English translations. Among her contributions are the Ethnic Folkways recording Songs and Dances of Great Lake Indians and the 1967 publication Michigan Indian Festivals, complete with photographs, diagrams, and musical transcriptions. A manuscript written with Jane and Fred Ettawageshik in the 1950s is being edited by Frank Ettawageshik for publication.
Throughout her career, Gertrude continued her commitment to careful research and shared her results in ways that would benefit the most people, especially her native collaborators. In her works, interested native peoples can find voices of identified knowledgeable elders as critical resources about their cultural heritage. Gertrude's contributions have led to new, richer ways of understanding art in culture. The disciplines of ethnomusicology, anthropology, dance, and folklore would be poorer without her accomplishments.
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