Tribal Colleges to Help Develop New Smithsonian MuseumFeb 15th, 1990 | By tcj | Category: 1-4: Culture for Survival, Tribal College News
A new Smithsonian museum dedicated to Native American history and culture will be looking to tribal colleges for training of its future staff.
The Museum of the American Indian will be the fifteenth museum in the Smithsonian when it opens in the mid to late 1990s near the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Ending years of political debate, it will be created from the more than one million artifacts now managed by the Haye Foundation in New York City.
But museum officials believe it will present an image of Native Americans that is very different from what is found at most museums.
American Indian culture will not be presented as an artifact of history but, instead, as living and viable, according to Jacki Rand, special assistant in the office of the assistant secretary for public service in the Smithsonian. She says leadership from Native American institutions will be an important part of this focus.
“We must not perpetuate the stereotype that Native Americans are an historical oddity and therefore no longer a viable culture,” she says. Instead, it must “reflect the fact that Native American culture is adapting, changing, evolving.”
This, Rand asserts, “is an almost revolutionary philosophy in museumology.”
Native American participation is essential, say supporters of the museum who are looking to tribal colleges to help provide training in museum and Native American studies. In the legislation creating the museum, tribally controlled colleges were specifically identified for their ability to train future leaders of the institution.
This not only benefits the Smithsonian, Rand says, but Indian students as well. “It’s important for Native American students to look down the road and say, ‘There’s a reason for getting a doctorate or master’s.”
It may also be possible to create fellowships and internships for students from tribal colleges. Individuals, even entire classes, could complete projects or attend seminars at the new museum.
These are only ideas, Rand says. Final proposals will not be made for years. And, she acknowledges, support for this revolutionary model is not universal. Will, for example, Native Americans still have a voice in the new museum after it is established?
Says Rand: “Oh, God, I hope so.”
“I would resign if I saw that it was just window dressing.”