Decolonizing Museums

Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Decolonizing Museums
    Book Description:

    Museum exhibitions focusing on Native American history have long been curator controlled. However, a shift is occurring, giving Indigenous people a larger role in determining exhibition content. InDecolonizing Museums, Amy Lonetree examines the complexities of these new relationships with an eye toward exploring how museums can grapple with centuries of unresolved trauma as they tell the stories of Native peoples. She investigates how museums can honor an Indigenous worldview and way of knowing, challenge stereotypical representations, and speak the hard truths of colonization within exhibition spaces to address the persistent legacies of historical unresolved grief in Native communities.Lonetree focuses on the representation of Native Americans in exhibitions at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, the Mille Lacs Indian Museum in Minnesota, and the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways in Michigan. Drawing on her experiences as an Indigenous scholar and museum professional, Lonetree analyzes exhibition texts and images, records of exhibition development, and interviews with staff members. She addresses historical and contemporary museum practices and charts possible paths for the future curation and presentation of Native lifeways.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0144-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  5. a note on names
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  6. one INTRODUCTION: Native Americans and Museums
    (pp. 1-28)

    Museums can be very painful sites for Native peoples, as they are intimately tied to the colonization process. The study of the relationship between Indigenous peoples and museums—the tragic stories of the past as well as examples of successful Native activism and leadership within the museum profession today—has preoccupied my professional life both inside and outside the academy. Museums have changed significantly from the days when they were considered “ivory towers of exclusivity.”¹ Today, Indigenous people are actively involved in making museums more open and community-relevant sites.

    We certainly see this new development reflected in exhibitions, which are...

  7. two COLLABORATION MATTERS: The Minnesota Historical Society, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and the Creation of a “Hybrid Tribal Museum”
    (pp. 29-72)

    In a letter dated 14 March 1997, W. Richard West, Southern Cheyenne and founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (nmai), wrote in support of the Minnesota Historical Society (mhs) receiving an award from the American Association for State and Local History. mhs had recently opened the Mille Lacs Indian Museum at one of its historic sites and had collaborated with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe on all phases of the museum’s development. West emphasized the importance of this collaboration as being critical to his work at the nmai. He stated, “The project’s system of...

    (pp. 73-122)

    In 1988, during the winter quarter of my junior year in college, I served as an American Indian Program intern at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The experience marked my first extended period away from home and my first foray into the museum profession. I was awed by the National Mall museums and spent countless hours wandering the many exhibition halls of the Smithsonian Institution, especially the National Museum of American History.¹ My weekends were spent visiting other well-known monuments and sites in the nation’s capital.

    I was impressed as well by the large and active community of...

  9. four THE ZIIBIWING CENTER OF ANISHINABE CULTURE & LIFEWAYS: Decolonization, Truth Telling, and Addressing Historical Unresolved Grief
    (pp. 123-167)

    I first visited the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan’s Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways in May 2006 while attending a tribal museum development symposium on their reservation. Since my first viewing, I realized that this community center embodies a decolonizing museum practice and creates an engaging learning experience for visitors. The 34,349-square-foot facility includes a state-of-the-art research center, changing exhibition gallery, meeting rooms, a gift shop, tribal collections storage, and a 9,000-square-foot permanent exhibition space that features the history, philosophy, and culture of the Saginaw Chippewa community—told from their perspective. This cultural center, though unique in content,...

  10. five CONCLUSION: Transforming Museums into “Places that Matter” for Indigenous Peoples
    (pp. 168-176)

    I would like to return for a moment to the lessons I learned while working at the Minnesota Historical Society (mhs) on community-collaborative exhibitions. In chapter 2, I discuss the process of building the new Mille Lacs Indian Museum that opened in 1996. From the start, the mhs curatorial team made the commitment to respond to the wishes of the Mille Lacs Band and to give them final authority in content decisions. The following exchange demonstrates the process of privileging their perspective during the planning process.

    I was in my late twenties at the time, and my academic training was...

  11. notes
    (pp. 177-190)
  12. bibliography
    (pp. 191-212)
  13. index
    (pp. 213-221)