Joe Nathan column: Wonderful museum honors people who ‘Never Gave Up’

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Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

Minnesota is mentioned several times at the superb, relatively new National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Unlike most museums I’ve visited around the world, this one will produce strong, mixed emotions – sometimes admiration, sometimes smiles and sometimes shame.

You don’t have to visit Washington, D.C., to enjoy and learn from this free-admission museum. Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the museum, wrote on its website: “Our objective is no less than to change what the world knows about the Native peoples of the Americas and Hawaii. We seek to bring the Native voice into every school, every library, every university, indeed every home. Most Americans will never enter our museum, yet because of the digital revolution in communications we can reach them all.”

A vast array of resources is available on the museum’s website: http://www.nmai.si.edu.

But if you are able to visit, on the fun and smiling side, the museum features one of the most creative hands-on areas for youngsters ages up to age 12 I’ve seen anywhere. In the ImagiNations Activity Center, youngsters (and adults) can try balancing to feel what it’s like to ride in a kayak. They can build a mock igloo or a large woven basket. They can participate in various art activities, as well, if arrangements are made ahead of time.

A display in the “We Never Gave Up” exhibit offers a photo collage from years past. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

A display in the “We Never Gave Up” exhibit offers a photo collage from years past. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

On the more somber side, visitors can start on the top (fourth) floor to see the “Nation to Nation” exhibit. This traces history between whites and American Indian tribes via hundreds of treaties. A short video and multiple displays explain what accurate history shows. This country made hundreds of treaties with American Indian tribes and repeatedly broke them. This is shameful.

But at the center of the fourth floor is an exhibit titled “We Never Gave Up.” By videos, text and pictures, this area shows that despite broken treaties, American Indians (sometimes with white allies) have won victories. Minnesota controversies about fishing rights are among those cited in this area.

Joe Nathan took this photo of Kay WalkingStick’s “Farewell to the Smokies” during a visit to the artist’s exhibit at National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. (Image used with permission of Kay WalkingStick; the Denver Art Museum owns the painting.)

Joe Nathan took this photo of Kay WalkingStick’s “Farewell to the Smokies” during a visit to the artist’s exhibit at National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. (Image used with permission of Kay WalkingStick; the Denver Art Museum owns the painting.)

One of the most powerful areas of the museum is a temporary exhibit of art by Cherokee artist Kay WalkingStick. Perhaps my favorite of the more than 60 pictures is one titled “Farewell to the Smokies.” This is, in part, a beautiful landscape of the Great Smoky Mountains. But a small line of people are walking at the bottom. As the museum explains, these people represent “a bitter contrast with the natural beauty, “recalling the forced exodus of the Cherokee people from their homeland.” It’s a wonderful example of how a great artist can combine nature with historical events and produce a picture that is simultaneously beautiful and disturbing. Examples from the WalkingStick exhibit are found here: http://s.si.edu/1WzVLFH.

The museum offers many free materials to educators, including a poster depicting “the last Inca grass suspension bridge,” according to Edwin Schupman. He reports it has been used for more than 500 years. A lesson plan is at http://s.si.edu/28O4d3z. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

The museum offers many free materials to educators, including a poster depicting “the last Inca grass suspension bridge,” according to Edwin Schupman. He reports it has been used for more than 500 years. A lesson plan is at http://s.si.edu/28O4d3z. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

The museum’s website has a vast array of materials, information and interactive games for families, students and educators. One game helps users learn more about American Indians living in various parts of the Americas: http://s.si.edu/1BTl6CQ.

The museum also offers periodic music and dance programs and has a terrific museum shop with a vast array of items ranging from a few to hundreds of dollars.

Viewing the website, or visiting the museum, produces a mixture of emotions. But along with shame and anger about what this country has done, I think visitors will come away with deep admiration and greater appreciation for people who “Never Gave Up.”

 

 

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected].

 

2 Responses to Joe Nathan column: Wonderful museum honors people who ‘Never Gave Up’

  1. Julie M. Febres says:

    This is great, and a very nice educational connection. In 1956 my family went through the beautiful Smokies (mets) and visited a tourist site, a model Cherokee village. Now I see why the few families there in fr

  2. Julie M. Febres says:

    In front of their tepees looked so sad. We have native Americans here, mostly tacit, some still on the “Rez.” A few in the casinos. Many married and through college, working and moving their families ahead. There is the Mankato hanging, and I
    Was shocked to learn that even one of my distant relatives was asked to be a judge over the hanging! Simply because he held most of the local govt posts in the nearby New Ulm and St. Peter área. He was probably a landowner working with The incoming raílroad. Money talks, land was a big deal. The Native Americans were treated like children, and the more land treaties we made with them the more they starved. The Souix Uprising here involved some of my relatives who died near New Ulm, but I was detached about it as a child because I saw it in a museum. The Southwestern tribes suffered terribly, as did the Natve people marched across the country who froze and starved. And Wounded Knee. Shameful. Meanwhile Hollywood made money glorifying
    The Cowboys while making Tonto seem subservient. This museum should be a good eye-opener for us all, and a good teaching tool. Our history needs telling. Thank you!

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