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#1 Feb-28-2014 07:50:am

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Penn show amplifies Native American voices

Article and photo gallery: http://articles.philly.com/2014-02-27/e … exhibition

By Samantha Melamed, Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED: February 27, 2014
The University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, founded in 1887, amassed many of its treasures during the so-called golden age of museum collecting - an era well known for unprecedented institution-building, less so for cultural sensitivity. (The decades since have brought negotiations and lawsuits over the repatriation of artifacts to various tribes and nations.)

That backdrop provides a striking contrast with the museum's newest exhibition, Native American Voices: The People - Here and Now, which opens Saturday. While the show draws on Penn's vast collection of artifacts, its true subject is the story of contemporary Native America, as told by 80 native consultants.

"This show is an expression of how museums are changing today," said Lucy Fowler Williams, keeper of the museum's American section and the show's organizer. "Demonstrated by our collaborative methodology is that native people are here on a much more even footing. It's not just the specialist talking about them; you have the opportunity to hear from native people directly."

The challenge for Fowler Williams was to connect the older artifacts - highlights include 11,000-year-old paleo-Indian projectile points unearthed near Clovis, N.M. - with the present day.

She's done that in part by initiating a modest continuing acquisition program, and by commissioning works for this exhibition, including an outfit and honor blanket by Denise Bright Dove Ashton-Dunkley, who is Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape,, and an installation by Seminole artist C. Maxx Stevens.

Even more critically, she spent three years building relationships and traveling the country with Hopi journalist and filmmaker Patty Talahongva to document the stories of Native Americans in Alaska, New Mexico, New Jersey, and in Washington, D.C., activist circles.

The core of the exhibition is an interactive presentation shown on four touch-screen towers, each of which allows visitors to call up any of 58 mini-documentaries featuring the interviews and footage they collected.

Talahongva said allowing Native Americans to control their own narrative is important.

"There's so few Native Americans in the country, population-wise, so for a nonnative peron to actually meet a Native American is pretty slim. There's a misconception that Indians are no longer around: They were killed off," she said. "This exhibition clearly shows that's not the case. We're alive and well - and doing all sorts of interesting things . . . practicing our traditions, and in the courts fighting for our rights."

Through those stories, the exhibition explores four themes: local nations, sacred places, new initiatives, and continuing celebrations.

To that end, Fowler Williams abandons the traditional, geography-bound structure of a Native American show and jumbles objects representing more than 100 tribes and thousands of years of material culture in the display cases. Touch-screen displays enable viewers to sort objects by tribe, region, or by the show's themes.

Through these interactive displays, the exhibition becomes a self-guided experience: Those interested in language can meet individuals such as Jessie Little Doe Baird, who almost singlehandedly saved the language of Massachusetts' Wampanoag tribe from extinction (and is raising her daughter as a native speaker). Those curious about issues of sovereignty (or sports) can investigate the story of the Iroquois Nationals, who travel on Iroquois passports to compete on the world stage in lacrosse, a game that originated as a Native American sacred practice.

The show pays special attention to the local Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape community in Bridgeton, N.J. The tribe was displaced and nearly devastated by harsh government policies, but found area churches to be unlikely havens where they could preserve their traditions.

Today, they're still fighting for federal recognition, and the stakes are high, said Tina Fragoso, a tribe member and consultant for the exhibition. Given the size of the native population here - officially, about 3,000 - it's a fight against obliteration.

Fragoso said that, if a school system has fewer than 40 or so native students, the population is not recognized at all.

"It's statistical genocide. It's writing you out of existence. That's what happened to us historically, and the education systems continue to do that," she said. "That's also why the museum exhibit is really important: so we do have that visibility to scholars, to school-age children, to other visitors."

Fragoso said there has been some progress: For example the University of Pennsylvania, recognizing that it's situated on Lenape land, has made efforts to honor that.

After all, while the exhibition highlights the theme of sacred places across the country, those places are everywhere - including here in Phladelphia.

"There are sacred places that are large and small, acknowledged or not," said exhibition consultant Suzan Harjo, a Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee activist.

Those include not only burial grounds, but also sites of historical events of all types. Her Washington, D.C., advocacy organization, Morning Star Institute, is working to compile a database of these locations. She said some may benefit from administrative or legislative protection. But her ultimate goal - indeed, the underlying message of the entire exhbition - is far simpler than that.

"It really comes down to respect," Harjo said. "Walk gently through that place, and understand that there are things about that place you might not understand."

EXHIBITION
Native American Voices

Opens Saturday at the Penn Museum, 3260 South St. Admission: $15, seniors $13, children $10.

Information: 215-898-4000 or www.penn.museum

smelamed@phillynews.com

215-854-5053

@samanthamelamed

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#2 Feb-28-2014 09:01:am

tree hugger
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Registered: May-12-2006
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Re: Penn show amplifies Native American voices

Photos of exhibit, videos, articles and more:

http://www.penn.museum/sites/nativeamer … paign=home

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#3 Feb-28-2014 03:16:pm

sschkaak
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Re: Penn show amplifies Native American voices

People who read this forum know I'm a big booster of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape, and I'm glad to see their contributions to this exhibit; BUT, what is it with the University of Pennsylvania ignoring the Delaware Tribe of Indians and the Delaware Nation, repeatedly?

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#4 Feb-28-2014 03:28:pm

tree hugger
Site Admin
Registered: May-12-2006
Posts: 11094

Re: Penn show amplifies Native American voices

sschkaak wrote:

People who read this forum know I'm a big booster of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape, and I'm glad to see their contributions to this exhibit; BUT, what is it with the University of Pennsylvania ignoring the Delaware Tribe of Indians and the Delaware Nation, repeatedly?

What he said! I noticed there was no mention or contribution from them whatsoever. Makes one wonder.

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