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National Museum of the American Indian: Gathering of the Tribes

Indian Country Today (Oneida, N.Y.), July 1, 2004


The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) seeks to be a place where Native people can speak in their own voices. More than a decade in the making, the project has undertaken to cooperate with tribal peoples across the hemisphere. Openness, respect and collaboration, qualities often lacking in museums of the past, have been critical to the effort.

In addition the the exhibits, a good part of the museum's 250,000-square-feet will be given over to public programming, including films, dance, music, storytelling, and a public theater that seats 300.

"About 30 years ago it used to be a non-Native person like myself who would talk about Navajo people," said Bruce Bernstein, NMAI's assistant director for Cultural Resources. "And then about 20 years ago or so, museums learned that you could bring a Navajo person in to talk about all the Navajo people. And then about 10 years ago or so, museums learned that you could bring Lilly in, and Lilly would talk about her experiences, which include being a Navajo person."

"Now we're saying, let's bring the entire tribe in, let them speak, and we'll facilitate," added Gerald McMaster, deputy assistant director for Cultural Resources. "We say we're the museum experts, we know how to do exhibitions, but you know the content."

Subjects Covered: education, personal storytelling

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