July 23, 2010

NMAI will tell "difficult" stories

‘Our story needs to be told’:  Smithsonian museum director gathers feedback in Red Lake on future exhibition

Kevin Gover hopes to rewrite history books about the life of American Indians, and a visit to Red Lake will bring him one step closer to achieving just that.

By Anne WilliamsGover, who became director of the museum in 2007, said he is in the beginning stages of designing an exhibition on American Indian treaties. He said the purpose of his visit to Red Lake was to meet with tribal council leaders and community members and to hear their feedback on the future exhibition.

“This is our first real effort to address the harder, more tragic parts of native history and their relationships with the United States,” Gover said. “The Smithsonian has enormous potential to change people’s understanding of Native American studies--what we’re taught in school.”

Gover is a member of the Pawnee and Comanche tribes. He is a former professor of law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.

Since the museum opened in 2004, Gover said, it has shied away from exhibiting difficult Native American topics.

“We knew the time would come when we’d have to tell the whole story,” Gover said. “There will be some who don’t want to hear it, but we think it’s time. This treaties exhibit will be our first venture into telling that difficult story.”

The exhibition, Gover said, will be designed in layers. A main exhibition will be designed for viewing at the national museum at the National Mall. A traveling exhibition will also be designed to travel around the country. A third exhibition will be created travel throughout Minnesota to tell the story of American Indian treaties in Minnesota.
Comment:  As you may recall, several critics have taken the NMAI to task for telling only positive stories. Now it's about to start telling negative stories.

The question the critics would ask is: "What took you so long?" They and the fans, I think, have always wanted a more critical approach. The only ones who didn't seem to were the Indians.

Indians have lived with their own tragic histories since the beginning. They frequently demand these histories' inclusion when people leave them out. So why would they want the NMAI to be only positive?

Gover saysy, "We think it's time." Okay, but what's changed since the museum opened five years ago? Why now and not five years from now?

It doesn't quite make sense. There must be more to the story.

For more on the subject, see Museums as Ethnic Advertising and The Feel-Good National Museum:  Reviews of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Below:  "Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., spoke at the Red Lake Tribal Headquarters Thursday afternoon in Red Lake about a future exhibition on American Indian treaties." (Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper)

1 comment:

Adair Hill said...

I was interning there when they transitioned the leadership to Gover.. which started at the end of 2007 and became official the beginning of 2008. Around that time they started talking about the treaties exhibit. They also started planning the art exhibits that have come through the last couple of years. I'm thinking the change of leadership is at the root of the change in message and it didn't happen right away because of the time it takes to develop an exhibit of this magnitude. But this is just conjecture.