International Quilt Museum, Nov. 6, 2019

Quilts are displayed at the International Quilt Museum on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Lined up against a black curtain, the striking colors are the first to draw eyes when visiting the Native Quilt Exhibit. The second eye-catching element is the recurring geometrical burst found in many of the quilts — it's called the morning star and it’s an honorary and celebratory symbol used by the Lakota, a Native American tribe, in their traditional mythology and art.

The International Quilt Museum, located on 33rd and Holdrege streets, is hosting the “Native Quilt Exhibit: UNL Human Trafficking & Migration Initiative” Nov. 5-7 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are handmade Native American quilts on display to support the human rights week that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is hosting. This week is intended to raise awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women initiative. 

According to Carolyn Ducey, the curator of collections at the International Quilt Museum, the pop-up exhibit consists of three quilts made by Oglala Lakota makers. Ducey said the museum staff is eager to create an opportunity to help share the work of the indigenous makers. 

“Makers often express political, social and personal viewpoints in their quilts. So, they give us an opportunity to share their perspective,” Ducey said.

In addition to the three quilts, the exhibit is displaying two red dresses. According to Sriyani Tidball, a lecturer in UNL’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, textiles’ ability to tell stories is very meaningful and important in this exhibition. 

“When native women are violated or trafficked or hurt sexually, they will wear a red dress and a red shawl to their powwows or to their gatherings just to share their pain,” Tidball said. 

According to Tidball, the dresses are an important aspect of creating awareness because they are a plainly-presented symbol and declaration of the pain these women have had to suffer through. Tidball explains that MMIW is a major concern and educating the public is the first step to shrinking the number of indigenous women being murdered or assaulted. 

Also as part of the human rights week, UNL’s Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services hosted a Dish It Up event on Nov. 5 to inform students about MMIW. Tidball said she was shocked by the number of attendees who were surprised by the existence of this major issue, and she was optimistic in regards to the Native Quilt Exhibit’s turnout. 

“So many nonnative students got up and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea this stuff was going on, thank you so much for sharing,’” Tidball said. “I hope [the Native Quilt Exhibit] would get the same kind of response.”

According to Ducey, the International Quilt Museum staff is honored to take part in an initiative that is raising awareness for such a prominent, but not as well known, issue. Although there is no direct link between a quilt and Native American women that have been murdered or assaulted, the vibrant expanse of fabric can still be used as a representation of the indigenous community and the pain they have experienced. 

“Quilts provide an opportunity for underrepresented populations to share their identity and express issues important to themselves,” Ducey said.