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Curator teaches the Native American way
By Darrell Neale • News Editor • August 27, 2008
OAK ORCHARD -- As curator of the Nanticoke Indian Museum, Odette Wright is responsible not only for the management of the building and artifacts, but also the way in which the tribe is presented.
Wright, a Nanticoke, makes presentations to school children, civic groups and visitors to the museum.
"A lot of people don't know anything about us," said Wright, who grew up in the Oak Orchard area before moving to California for a number of years. "I also go out and speak, talking about the history of the Nanticokes."
After attending elementary school in the building that now houses the Nanticoke Indian Center on Route 24, Wright was faced with a choice -- end her schooling as an eighth grader, or continue on at Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kan. In the late 1950's there was no opportunity for Native Americans to continue their schooling in Delaware, so she and others were forced to go to Kansas.
"I graduated in 1957 and decided to move to California," she said.
But home was calling, and in 1976 she returned to Oak Orchard. Now back to her roots, Wright is very involved in the Nanticoke Indian Powwow and helped organize the first event.
"In 1977, we invited the public to attend and now we are in our 31st year," she said.
The powwow is the largest on the East Coast and draws between 200 and 250 dancers. This year's event is scheduled to be held Sept. 6 and 7.
The Nanticoke Tribe has been preparing this year's powwow program and the tribal veterans will be honored this year, she said. A number of photos are posted on the museum walls and Wright said she often thinks about them.
"I think it is important to let them know you care," she said.
Another project going on at the museum is the revival of the Nanticoke language. Since the native tongue was never properly recorded, Wright and others are attempting to keep it alive by interviewing tribal elders who still have the knowledge.
Wright said some of the nuances of the language can only be learned by hearing the words. Just looking at a word spelled in English doesn't tell you how the word should be pronounced, she explained.
Wright was the original curator of the museum from 1984 to 2000 and then returned for a second stint in 2007.
"I was supposed to be retired," she said with a laugh.
The Nanticoke Indian Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.