Photo courtesy of Ellen Kurath
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong
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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