American Indian cultural centers of the Northwest Region: an anthropological look at cultural representation

Tschopp, Jana
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This thesis centers on research that was done during the months of May through June, 2002, with six American Indian museums/cultural centers. The hypothetical question asked was: Which artifacts are put on exhibit for the outside viewer and why? Secondly, how much information is dispersed to the mainstream American Public and what is held back? The data gathered from these museums/cultural centers show that the six are very similar in their guidelines and that all of them depend on the elders of the associated tribal communities to set these mandates. While all of the centers relied on elders and advisory boards for their guidelines, the major factor in determining what is exhibited and how much information is disseminated is based heavily on the ideology of sacredness. These museums/cultural centers chose not to show the same type of artifacts due to their sacred nature. Objects included are sacred bundles, grave goods, religious and curing paraphernalia, certain songs and stories, and animal effigies. Items considered to be of a sacred nature are kept carefully preserved in storage areas. The manner in which the museums/cultural centers exhibited their artifacts to the mainstream viewer and the tribal community itself concerns issues of representation. These are particularly important now that there is a steadily increasing number of American Indians maintaining their own museums/cultural centers and telling their own histories, lifeways, and cultures. Events such as the civil rights movement and feminism helped establish a growing desire to represent sovereignty and indigenous culture from an insider's worldview.