As museums have acknowledged their legacy as colonial institutions, many have reimagined their mission as agents of decolonization and social justice. The pandemic disruption, the Black Lives Matter movement, and other community issues are driving still more rapid and drastic changes and providing opportunities for reflection and growth. How can American museums—especially those that have strong relationships with Indigenous communities—respond to current national conditions of social unrest and political turmoil? How have New England museums fared and what is likely to happen over the next two to three years? (Watch the sequel to this event, Discussion 2)
About the Speakers
- Chris Newell (Passamaquoddy)Executive Director and Senior Partner to Wabanaki Nations, Abbe Museum
- Jane Pickering, William & Muriel Seabury Howells Director, Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University
- Lorén Spears (Narragansett), Executive Director, Tomaquag Museum
- Moderated by Castle McLaughlin, Museum Curator of North American Ethnography, Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University
Chris Newell is Executive Director and Sr. Partner to Wabanaki Nations for the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine. He was born and raised in Motahkmikuhk (Indian Township, Maine) and is a proud citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township. Chris is a co-founder of Akomawt Educational Initiative, an educational consultancy working with schools, universities, museums, and all areas of education to incorporate Native perspectives in a culturally competent manner. He is an award-winning museum educator dedicated to expanding the presence of Native content and making a better, more informed world for all peoples.
Jane Pickering was appointed as the William and Muriel Seabury Howells Director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology in 2019. Prior to that, she was Executive Director of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, a partnership of six museums. She has thirty years’ experience working in university museums, including administrative positions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University. During her career she has focused on the unique opportunities available to university museums for public engagement, through multiple exhibition projects and informal education initiatives. In 2016 she was appointed by former president Barack Obama to the National Museum and Library Services Board.
Lorén M. Spears (Narragansett), Executive Director of Tomaquag Museum, holds a Masters in Education and received a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from the University of Rhode Island. She is an author, artist, and shares her cultural knowledge with the public through museum programs. She has written curriculum, poetry, and narratives published in a variety of publications such as Dawnland Voices, An Anthology of Indigenous Writing of New England; Through Our Eyes: An Indigenous View of Mashapaug Pond; The Pursuit of Happiness: An Indigenous View, and From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution. Recently, she co-edited a new edition of A Key into the Language of America by Roger Williams.
Reimagining Museums: Disruption and Change Part I
[00:00:09.06] Hello. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
[00:00:24.53] Greetings from Cambridge, Massachusetts. My name is Shelly Lowe. I am Navajo from Ganado, Arizona. And I'm the executive director of the Harvard University Native American Program. Welcome, and thank you for joining us today.
[00:00:38.36] Harvard University is built upon the traditional territory of the Massachusett Tribe. Its buildings, including the Harvard Peabody Museum and its collections, continue to occupy this territory. And I want to acknowledge and thank members of the Massachusetts Tribe for their continued stewardship and support of our important work.
[00:00:59.39] Tonight's program, "Reimagining Museums: Disruption and Change," was organized by Dr. Castle McLaughlin, curator of North American Ethnography at the Peabody. Castle will lead our discussion tonight. And I would like to welcome her to begin our program.
[00:01:20.85] Thank you, Shelly. And thank you, viewers, for joining us for tonight's panel discussion. So we're living in a really tumultuous time. Not only are we in the middle of a global pandemic, but political and social tensions are palpable. And museums are grappling with how to respond to pressing issues of social, racial, and environmental justice.
[00:01:45.09] So we've asked three museum directors to give us their perspectives on how these forces are shaping and reshaping museums and how they're leading change at their respective institutions. After I introduce the panelists, I'm going to ask them to respond to some big questions in a relatively short amount of time. Let's meet the panelists.
[00:02:10.20] First up is Chris Newell. Chris is a member of the Passamaquoddy Nation. And he's from Motahkmikuhk, or Indian Township in Maine. Chris is the executive director and senior partner to the Wabanaki Nations for the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine.
[00:02:30.76] The Abbe Museum was founded in the 1920s by a New York physician, Dr. Abbe, and had an original focus on archaeology. The Abbe's also well known for their collections of Maine Indian baskets and, more recently, for their support of contemporary Native American art and artists. But nationally, they're best known as leading advocates for and practitioners of decolonizing museums. And recently, they've reoriented their mission to prioritize Wabanaki perspectives by working directly with Wabanaki Nations to share their culture and history with a wider audience.
[00:03:20.57] So before Chris returned to Maine to lead the Abbe, he spent six years as the education supervisor for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Connecticut. Thank you, Chris, for being here.
[00:03:37.36] Jane Pickering. Jane was appointed as the William and Muriel Seabury Howells Director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University in May of 2019. The Peabody was founded in 1866 with an original mandate to understand the cultural history of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. And early staff contributed to the development of the discipline of archaeology and helped to found the Department of Anthropology at Harvard.
[00:04:17.56] During the 20th century, the museum broadened its purview to include cultures from around the globe. And today, its diverse collections are among the largest in North America. If Jane seems more familiar, it's probably because, before coming to the Peabody, she spent six years as the executive director for Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, an umbrella group of six campus museums who are responsible for public programming, like our event tonight. Thank you, Jane.
[00:04:55.36] Our third speaker is Lorén Spears. Lorén is a member of the Narragansett Nation. And she's the executive director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island, which is Rhode Island's first and only Indigenous museum dedicated to sharing the culture, arts, and history of the tribal communities of Southern New England from a first-person perspective.
[00:05:23.74] The Tomaquag Museum which started in 1948 by two women, Mary Glasko, who was Narragansett and Wampanoag, and her friend Eve Butler, who was a Euro-American anthropologist. And originally, it was housed in Eve Butler's home. In 2016, the Tomaquag was awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, which is the nation's highest honor, reserved for institutions that demonstrate extraordinary and innovative approaches to community service.
[00:06:01.18] Like Chris, Lorén is also a passionate and experienced educator, who not only designs school programs for youth and teaches in the museum, but also conducts workshops for adults and institutions on a very wide range of topics, including decolonizing museums, food sovereignty, and Indigenous language reclamation. She's also an activist, an artist, and a prolific writer, and I may say, a very inspiring person. So we're honored to have her join us for tonight's discussion.
[00:06:39.76] So on to the first topic-- decolonization. So one of the strongest forces that's disrupting and reshaping museums is the need to reckon with the legacies and the continuing impact of Euro-American colonialism. Museums are the quintessential institutional artifact of the European Enlightenment and of Europe's conquest and colonization of much of the rest of the world, which lasted from the 16th century right up through the 1960s. And during that time, museums were pretty much run by and for Euro-American people, and they unselfconsciously collected, managed, and interpreted the objects and human remains of other cultures.
[00:07:30.61] But by the 1960s, Indigenous people were beginning to challenge the right of museums to own and represent their cultural heritage and the remains of their ancestors. And in the US, one of the results of this activism was the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in 1990, which requires most museums to notify tribal communities about related holdings and established mechanisms for repatriating human remains and some kinds of objects. That was 30 years ago this month.
[00:08:12.60] But during the past decade, the call for museums to decolonize their thinking and their practices have become stronger and more urgent. And many are trying to do so. Now, not all museums use the term "decolonization." For example, the Peabody has chosen to use the term "ethical stewardship" to frame the same kinds of initiatives and values. And also, given the great diversity in the size and type of museums and their collections and the descendant communities related to those collections, decolonization is going to look a little different at every institution.
[00:09:00.37] But my first question for the panelists is, in your view, what is the essence of decolonisation? And why is it so important for the future of museums? And what does it look like at your institution? And Chris, if you don't mind, I'd like you to start us off.
[00:09:23.05] Thank you so much, Castle. And thank you so much for using our language when announcing my home community of Motahkmikuhk. It's so appreciated, that. Just for those that don't know, Castle went way out of her comfort zone to bring that to you. Also, I just want to thank you for that, Castle. It's much appreciated.
[00:09:44.71] So yeah. "Decolonisation" is a term that really does have different meanings and different contexts. And in the world of education, which is really where I come from, and especially museum education, it's about, when Native content is present, centering Native voices, those living Native communities. This is something that has not been common practice for the museum field, beginning in the 19th century.
[00:10:16.20] The history of Native content with colonial museums is rather fraught. And as a result, Native people are largely absent from the colonial museum space, which is a problem because you have living Native communities that can give you a first-person perspective, which is so much more impactful on your visitor experience. Yet there's third-person interpretation going on based off of that 19th century model.
[00:10:43.11] And so decolonization for museums is really about updating that mode of thinking. Museums are no longer the place, especially colonial museums, of saving vanishing cultures, that mindset that began way back when. And we've been overturning for the last several decades. The arrival of tribal museums and the presence of subjective histories or unapologetically Native being presented within the museum model are all important steps that need to happen.
[00:11:21.27] But the colonial museum really needs to update its model to make sure that it's keeping up with the times and using Native people as first-person interpreters on Native collections. It just seems to make sense if you think about it. If you have people that have living knowledge within their communities about your material, especially in your collections, the expansion of wisdom actually expands beyond just the Native community, but into the institution itself.
[00:11:54.66] I've heard plenty of stories of colonial institutions opening up their Native collections to local Native communities over the past decade or so. And just a bevy of new information enters into the institution that was just simply not there because of the interpretation that was going on and the lack of first-person perspective.
[00:12:16.75] So in the world of museums, it's really about changing those old modes of thinking, bringing Native people into the present, no longer using non-Native folks as the degree of authenticity measure that has typically been the way museums have collected. There's a reason why museum collections have largely Southwestern pottery or Plains artwork. It's because at the time, East Coast tribes were much more highly impacted by colonization-- still producing art, yet we're not seen as authentic by the conservators of the time. And that's something that's stayed with the museum field until very recently. And these are big changes that really need to be made.
[00:13:08.37] At the Abbe Museum, we are a colonial museum, began in 1928. Founded in 1926, but opened in 1928 as the Lafayette National Park Trailside Museum or the Robert Abbe Museum of Stone Age Antiquities. And so the very colonial name, even in that frame.
[00:13:27.60] Because as a young Native person, walking into that museum, the original museum at Sieur de Monts Springs, I can tell you that the voice of the museum would speak to me, as a Passamaquoddy as a child, as if I didn't exist. And that's an experience that I don't want my children to have as they enter your museums. I want the living Native voices of our peoples to be there as well.
[00:13:51.73] So at the Abbe museum, when the downtown location opened in 2001, over the last 10 years, under my predecessor, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, the museum has gone under a decolonization initiative, which began with the content, of course. The main exhibit was stripped right down. It was redone with people from the Native communities, all the living Native communities in the state of Maine contributing to the creation of that main exhibit. And they are the central voices for how everything is interpreted, which is a much, much different model than we've been doing.
[00:14:30.18] And the impact for the visitor is that no longer are we feeding the implicit bias that Wabanaki peoples are only figments of the past. Sadly, it's an implicit bias that a lot of colonial museums still feed today. But they see the living Native communities. They see us just as authentic in 2020 as we were back in 1520, and in that way, bring us back into the conversation.
[00:14:57.66] And humanizing Native communities is such an important thing to happen because colonization has really done a good job, especially in the Northeast, of invisiblizing Native communities to the point where there's just no voice in some places at all. And when I worked at the Pequot Museum, I can tell you that the harm is something that you can see. It is not uncommon for children or adults in Connecticut, which loves its colonial history, to walk into that tribal museum and wonder out loud if the Pequots are still alive because they've been fed a history that they were wiped out. Even with Foxwoods Casino right there, even with a Pequot educator leading their tours, they're just not making the connection because of the biases that they've been fed throughout their educational career, and also in places of education, like museums.
[00:15:51.18] Thanks. Chris. Do you want to add anything about that how this has developed at the Abbe? I know it began before your arrival. But is it something that is ever finished?
[00:16:07.12] Great question. Yeah. Totally, that's an important part of defining decolonisation within a museum, is that it's a process. Colonial museums are, from my perspective as a Native educator, colonial artifacts. I actually use colonial museums as a way to study why Americans believe the things they do about Native peoples.
[00:16:28.99] And so a colonial museum will never fully decolonize. Just our presence is an artifact of colonization. But the process of changing the way we do things happens not just in the content. But it happens throughout the museum.
[00:16:46.32] And right now, we are now governed. This is a Bar Harbor institution that has allowed itself to share power with the Native communities. And so therefore, we have parity on our board. We actually have a majority Wabanaki board now, which was never the case five years and before. And now with my arrival as well, I'm the first Wabanaki executive director of the museum.
[00:17:13.80] And so not only have we done the process, engaged it through the content. But now we're doing it through governance. And now it's about making sure that these processes that we've built into the museum live beyond me as an executive director or the current staff and just become the way the museum does things, and hopefully that we create processes that become replicable by other museums.
[00:17:39.45] As you were mentioning earlier, in every museum, it's going to look a little bit different. But there are some things that can be learned from what the Abbe has done over the last five years and where we're going in the future that hopefully can be replicated within their own institutions as well.
[00:17:56.98] Thank you, Chris. Jane, do you want to speak to the development and implementation of ethical stewardship at the Peabody and your vision for where that is taking the Peabody?
[00:18:09.39] Sure, yeah. And I just want to say, Chris, that I know the Abbe Museum has been an inspiration for many of us in the profession in terms of what your institution has done and is doing. And I think, as you said, it's really a time of profound change for all museums as we grapple with being colonial institutions.
[00:18:34.29] And I guess you could say that the Peabody in many ways exemplifies exactly the sort of institution that you've been talking about. We've benefited enormously from imperialist and colonialist activities as we've sort of both actively collected and received items and cultural materials from communities around the world. And so really, it's sort of embedded in the history of the museum. And when we think about it, we can see that colonialism has driven what was collected, how we collected, the language we use in our database to document collections, our past exhibitions, how collections were used in teaching.
[00:19:26.59] And so I think the museum has been thinking about these issues, as Castle's sort of alluded, for many years. And we, of course, have been working with NAGPRA for 30 years. Monday was the anniversary. And so we have been working to try and address some of these issues.
[00:19:53.16] I do have to say, our most recent collaborative exhibit-- I want to mention that to people say you can check it out-- which is Wampanoag Voices: Beyond 1620, where we were working with individuals from the Wampanoag who were reflecting on some of the objects in our collections. And it was initially supposed to be on site, but, of course, is now online. So please do check that exhibit out.
[00:20:22.47] But I think what happened more recently is we began to think about this issue of decolonization. And as you said, Chris, it's used to describe a process. So it is a process. It's a process of transformation and adopting principles and practices within the general overview of issues around equity and inclusion and social reform.
[00:20:55.88] So we thought about the words. And as Castle said, decolonisation, when we were thinking about it, is also a political process, which is what-- again, you were saying, Chris-- in terms of your board. And it's about structural changes to restore Indigenous sovereignty and resources and lands. And as part of a bigger institution, as part of Harvard University, we weren't sure we could, as a museum embedded within a bigger organization, really tackle some of those things ourselves. So we felt that the concept of ethical stewardship would more accurately describe what we can aspire to and aim to go through the process of thinking about that.
[00:21:46.56] So of course, then the idea is, well, what does ethical stewardship mean? It doesn't mean that we were unethically necessarily stewarding things before. So I think the sort of fundamental thing we've been thinking is this idea that we are stewarding collections rather than owning collections, and making that foundational to everything that we do, both behind the scenes and in our galleries and programs, and that we are intentionally trying to recognize the rights of what we call the heritage stakeholders, descendant communities, Indigenous communities, building relationships with communities, sharing authority.
[00:22:33.50] So you had mentioned, Chris, going into the Abbe when you were younger and sort of saying, OK, we need to share authority here. In fact, we often need to give authority here so that we can implement culturally responsive care and interpretation of collections.
[00:22:52.58] It also describes for us a set of values and practices that means that we will engage with our fraught history. We do have a very complicated, difficult history, both within the Peabody and also within the discipline of anthropology. So we need to engage and actively think about that history.
[00:23:17.60] And then finally, of course, what can we do to help be agents of a more equitable and inclusive future? And so how can we work as a museum to do that? So they were the things that I think were behind our feeling and the collective feeling to think about issues around ethical stewardship. So it's really, I think we've used the phrase, from ownership to stewardship. So really having that as a basis for our work moving forward.
[00:23:51.74] OK, thanks. Lorén, I know you have much to say on this topic.
[00:23:58.35] Sure. So I'm definitely in agreement with a lot of the things that have been said. But the thing that I always take people to when I'm thinking about decolonizing museums or education is to actually understand where conquest comes in and what are the tenets of conquest. And until people break that apart, they can't deconstruct the colonization that's taking place in museums. So it's hard to decolonize.
[00:24:26.28] So if you think about the tenants, the first tenant is greed. And that's the idea of the salvage paradigm. We're going to save all the stuff from those other cultures. And we're going to really steal it all and put it in these museums. And it's going to become ours. And we're going to decide how it's going to be represented in things like firsting and lasting of certain communities to create that erasure.
[00:24:51.11] Who has the power? In conquest, it's who's got the power-- political, economic, military, weaponry power. In museums, who's the gatekeeper? Who gets to have the say?
[00:25:02.03] Who's the one that makes the decisions on exhibitions? Who's the one who decides the labels? Who's the one that gets to decide what the story is saying and how it's being said?
[00:25:13.13] Entitlement, that's part of conquest. Think of Columbus sticking that flag in the ground and claiming lands for the king and queen of Spain. That's that notion that you have the right in your own head in conquest.
[00:25:25.04] But it's the same in museums. There's a certain entitled feeling by people who donate items to these museums from their family groups that have been taken from our families and communities. There's a certain entitlement on the people that have gone through school and become, quote unquote, "experts" on certain things that they have the right and they have the knowledge, and that the communities themselves don't have the same level of knowledge about themselves as the "experts" do. And I'm using that in air quotes there.
[00:25:58.58] There's that idea of representation in conquest. It's promoting fear of people by dehumanization and vilification of the people. In museums, it's sometimes the way it's represented that is inaccurate or perpetuating stereotypes and misconceptions and things like that.
[00:26:25.26] And then the last thing is censorship. In conquest, you give us no voice. No voice in the vote, no voice in the political process, no voice in education, no voice in any of the structures that make our society, if you will. Once you have been conquered, you have none of those voices.
[00:26:43.55] Well, that's true in museums. In the normal or Eurocentric construct, the people that you were talking about didn't have a voice in that. So when you're decolonizing that, it's creating the equity that Chris is talking about and what Jane is saying. It's creating power balance on who gets to say. It's bringing more people to the table.
[00:27:08.11] To me, we're just at the tip of the iceberg here on that. I'm invited, as I know Chris is, as well, and lots of other people, to be on a bunch of boards. Especially after this very social justice year, people are really looking to outreach.
[00:27:23.78] However, it's still a lot of one person to represent the whole entire entity called "Native American," "American Indian," "Indigenous," "First Nations," "First Peoples," "Aboriginal," anything. It's just not enough people at the table in these bigger institutions to have some say and to really provide the equity that's necessary. So that's my nutshell version of what it is.
[00:27:50.63] We know why it's important. It's important because we need to tell full stories. We have to have varying perspectives. We have to create equity in representation within museums to really push forward the idea that Chris was saying, that we didn't just die off in 1675 and that's that. We've been here all along and we've been erased from that history.
[00:28:20.27] I've even had people come to me saying, well, you're rewriting history. No, we're not rewriting history. We're including the history that's already there that has been erased from the history, that's been sanitized. That's a word that [? Taluk ?] always uses. It's the sanitized history that we're given. And that's something that we have to really improve upon.
[00:28:42.20] And lastly, just to tie in how we do it at Tomaquag. Now, even though Tomaquag Museum is really an Indigenous-run institution-- We were founded in 1958. I just want to correct that, not '48.
[00:28:56.54] Even though the very early days, Eva Butler was there, and she was an anthropologist, and a lot of the original collections were from her, the first-person voice in the education was Princess Red Wing, Princess Pine Needles, and [? Taluk. ?] And so that was what was the outward education piece. That was what was being seen, even in 1958. And we have continued that.
[00:29:19.67] The things that we've done is we've institutionalized that in that it's in our policies, in our bylaws. There's no discrepancy. Our board has to be a majority Native. Our executive director has to be Native. Our front line education staff, meaning the people on the floor giving the tours, giving the lectures, has to be Native.
[00:29:40.88] It can't be first-person if they're not Native. So they have to be. They don't have to be Narragansett. They just have to be Indigenous and they have to give that perspective.
[00:29:50.87] One other thing I really wanted to share on this-- for our institution, we were really looking at decolonizing our own minds and making sure we were not automatically using structures that were there because they're there. And so one of the things that this really came out in is in collections care and what you call things. And we really pushed back.
[00:30:14.03] And so in our collections care policies, artifacts or objects, we don't call them that. We call them "cultural belongings." We don't call it "ethnography," because we're not talking about somebody else's culture in a third-person. We're calling it "inculturation." We're not calling it "archaeological" or "primitive cultures," because I cringe when I hear those words. We're calling it "ancestral belongings" or "ancient belongings" as another way of saying that.
[00:30:46.09] And so we're constantly pushing at the language and the words that we use. It is evolutionary. Because even being Indigenous, you're in a field that uses certain words. And you have to pause sometimes and go, wait a minute. We can't use that word. We've got to come up with another word for that and decolonize that.
[00:31:04.15] And so it is a process of really thinking about what you're doing. And we have the advantage of being a Native-run institution. So we're saying and delivering exhibits from a first-person perspective.
[00:31:18.79] But the second thing that we do, if you come to our museum, I don't think there's one exhibit here that doesn't go back and forth from the past to the present. We do not do a linear timeline in our museum. Our museum, if you're talking about Indigenous foodways, we're talking before Europeans came here, foodways all the way through to today to food sovereignty initiatives, all in one exhibit.
[00:31:41.68] And that's important to us because that's the idea of making sure people understand we're talking about our history, we're talking about our present, and we're leading you to our future, and that it's all woven together. And that's really, really important to us in decolonizing the way people think about Indigenous people.
[00:32:01.58] Thanks. So much to pick up on. But Lorén, I know that you train people how to decolonize. And I thought it was interesting that you find sort of the gist of that, these attitudes and characteristics associated with conquest, like greed and entitlement.
[00:32:25.82] So when you train other institutions and people, do you talk about that? I know some Indigenous consultants suggest replacing core concepts and metaphors with Indigenous terms to kind of help transition people's mindset, like using Indigenous terms, like alternative terms for a museum or a place where certain things happen. So do you focus on those characteristics and qualities like greed and entitlement as a first step for people to think about?
[00:33:05.78] I do. I do. Because I think when you use the word "decolonize," until they understand what colonized means fully-- There's a whole lot more. We could talk about that for the day. There's a whole lot more to it than that. I gave you the shortest version I could to be succinct.
[00:33:22.10] But they have to understand what conquest and colonization is. They have to understand what historical trauma is. They have to understand the history of the area that they are wanting to exhibit, if you will. They have to understand that. Because if they don't, then they can't decolonize that because they're going to fall into all the pitfalls that human beings can do if you're not thinking about that. So I really look at them.
[00:33:48.83] I believe in Indigenizing, but I don't believe in appropriation. So there's a line there. It depends on whose museum it is and how it's being used and who was part of the process. So I wouldn't necessarily jump right in and say, oh, you should be using so-and-so's language and labeling everything unless you have that community there and that that was something they really wanted you to do and to be part of.
[00:34:13.43] Now, when it's an Indigenous-led, that gives us a lot more latitude in that. But I think each place has its own sort of barriers that they have to work through. You really need to listen to your Indigenous, for lack of a better word, committee that is part of your team for exhibit development on whatever exhibit you're working on.
[00:34:35.84] I think the Boston Children's Museum did a really great job in the Native Voices exhibit in really bringing a lot of people in and really going through the process. It's kind of painful because it takes a while, especially at the beginning.
[00:34:50.57] But the thing is, if you don't bring the Native community or whatever diverse community you're trying to talk about into the room at the beginning, then you're just wanting a rubber stamp. You just want them to say you like it and move on. That's not acceptable. That's not part of the process. So I think that if you can bring people in at the very beginning, and they become part of the process, and you build those relationships.
[00:35:14.41] Each community is going to tell you something different. There's not a boilerplate. I can't answer for Chris's community. He can't answer for mine. And I can't answer, necessarily, for everybody in my community. I can give you my viewpoint and my perspective.
[00:35:29.83] But that's why you need more than one person at the table when you're working on these kinds of exhibits about certain communities. Or even if it's multiple communities, you need multiple people at the table. One, you get better ideas because everybody has great ideas, and you need to work through them. But two, you can be sure that you're not getting just one small opinion instead of a more holistic-- more voices give you that more holistic approach.
[00:35:56.38] And people feel included too. And they're more apt to come to the exhibit later because they feel like they were part of it. Whether it's in the group or committee, or whether it was part of online focus groups or surveys, there's multiple ways to reach out to people to get them to be engaged and to get a wider swath of information and engagement.
[00:36:18.55] Thank you. So we could spend hours talking just about decolonisation. But to move to kind of a related question-- and Chris, maybe you can answer this one first-- another of the big changes is just the tremendous growth of museums around the world in not just number, but type of museum.
[00:36:41.68] So even though museums come out of this very Euro-American colonial context, in the last few decades, non-Western nations and lots of Indigenous communities and local communities have started their own museums. And they're kind of reimagining them to function differently and to have different missions. And I thought it was interesting that both the Abbe and Tomaquag began as somewhat conventional colonialist or mainstream museums and have gone through this Indigenization process, so that now, they're essentially Native-run institutions that have strong missions to serve Indigenous communities.
[00:37:31.79] So my question, Chris, is when museums change their mission in that way, how does that impact the other functions? So it seems one thing is that there's a switch from a focus on collections to more people oriented. So a lot of tribal museums or cultural centers, and they are dedicated to strengthening communities by offering programs like language revitalization and revitalizing artistic and cultural practices.
[00:38:08.16] But how does that impact the other things museums do? And more importantly, what do you think the value of museums are for the communities you serve in Maine? What are the aspects of museums that can be picked up on in a positive way for communities?
[00:38:30.62] So yeah, when it comes to the way things are changing-- I'm sorry, I got lost in some of your questions there. Can you just reframe the last one for me again?
[00:38:45.43] Sure, yeah. Indigenous museums that have a strong mission to serve Indigenous communities are an example of how people are reimagining the shape of museums and what they do. And I'm wondering what the value of museums are for Wabanaki communities? What is the potential of museums to actually benefit communities?
[00:39:10.66] All right, I remember when I was going to say now. Thank you. So yeah, when it comes to the world of museums, there are tribal museums coming up. And the value of tribal museums is that, once again, they are unapologetically the history and interpretation coming from the community themselves, which sometimes brings in hard histories, especially when it comes to the history of colonization. And giving voice to that is one of the ways that communities heal intergenerational trauma, because one of the reasons why it exists is because of a lack of treatment of it, just a lack of recognition that it's even there.
[00:39:54.26] So another thing that happens is-- you mentioned language. One of the things we've got to remember is that English is a foreign language to this continent. And one of the shortcomings of what we're doing right now is that we're speaking in the English language. Therefore, we're speaking under the blueprint of the land of England, which is the worldview of the English language. And by using our own languages, we can start to reinsert the worldviews of our own peoples, which are vastly different.
[00:40:31.27] Just to give you a great example, one of our linguists, Roger Paul-- I steal this example from him all the time-- but just the word "dirt" in the English language. And one of the reasons why he got into making sure our languages get kept alive is because he really hated growing up being called "dirty" in the English language.
[00:40:56.32] And that was something involved with racism, of course. But it's something that he experienced. It's a very visceral thing for him. And he doesn't want other young Passamaquoddies to experience the same thing.
[00:41:11.05] And the way that they get through that is by learning the language. Because in our language, the word for what we translate as dirt is [PASSAMAQUODDY]. That's one of the ways we translate it for English speakers.
[00:41:23.23] But really, that word has a much deeper meaning. It really translates to the molecules of our ancestors. So what we see as the dirt or the soil is literally part of the living cycle, the life cycle. And we understood all of that science. And by bringing in our language and reframing the way we use things.
[00:41:45.13] And that's why I was so appreciative of your use of Passamaquoddy language in your introduction, because that's such a big thing. I would love to be able to introduce my community as "Motahkmikuhk" and not have to say "Indian Township" in English and for the world to just understand that that's the name of our community.
[00:42:05.33] So the value, number one, is bringing those concepts. It seems simple but it's really very, very complex. But it's also very impactful, the idea of looking through the worldview of a different language.
[00:42:19.47] One of the things I'm looking to do at the Abbe, the experience of the visitor, is that they will have to use our language. It's in Passamaquoddy territory, so we'll be using Passamaquoddy labeling. But things like the bathroom labels, [PASSAMAQUODDY] and [PASSAMAQUODDY], men and women.
[00:42:36.07] International symbols will be there so people don't wander into the wrong one. But they will end up seeing the words normalized, rather than it being an extra-curricular within the museum. And English is actually seen as kind of a barrier to getting to the level of knowledge that we're actually. And that problem is being expressed.
[00:42:57.40] Now, the value of museums for Native communities is very big, as well. During the decolonisation process, there's some growing pains the Abbe Museum went through. And one of the questions that one of the non-Native board members asked of the Native council that was advising them was, the most decolonized thing we could do is give the entire collection back to those Native communities.
[00:43:23.11] And all of the Native council members basically-- they're all appointed by the communities in Maine-- all said, no. The Abbe Museum has too much value. And that's something I recognized as a child. Even though it didn't speak to me with the right voice and it fed some implicit biases, I realized the treasure trove of information that is contained within that collection.
[00:43:45.82] And if we can just come together, our communities and the Abbe together, then all of a sudden, the Abbe becomes a home away from home. But actually, it's a home within our home because it's in our homelands. So it should feel like that to any Wabanaki person that comes within the building. They should feel like they are at home in our communities.
[00:44:12.58] And that's something that is a way to bring ourselves out of and make ourselves good neighbors with a state of manners. And that's one thing that we also want to encourage. So these living relationships, that's what really it contributes to, the world as it exists today.
[00:44:34.65] What I always tell people is that, no matter what happened in history, as hard as some of it, it is how we got here. And if we do not learn those lessons, we're not going to do well going forward. And we're all here now. So we all have to figure out how to steward this land, especially in the state of Maine.
[00:44:53.88] We've got to learn how to steward that land together so it's sustainable so that we're here for the next 12,000 years. Because Native people lived sustainably for 12,000 years before the disruption of colonization in the last 200 years that just celebrated has been living unsustainably. We are just not going to make it for another 200 years if we continue on that route. And so it requires all of the living communities, the Native and non-Native communities, coming together to learn how to live sustainably on the land. And the owner's manual for that landscape is within the Wabanaki communities.
[00:45:30.70] Thank you, Chris. Now I have to give Lorén a chance to say a few words. We're at the point where we should start taking questions. But several of the things you said-- Lorén, I know that your approach to a museum is so different from a place where there's collections and exhibits.
[00:45:48.84] You're involved with connecting to community health and well-being. You promote economic development. And then another thing Chris said that you're a master of is building relationships with other institutions and civic leaders as a way to strengthen the capacity of your institution. So can you give kind of a shortish response to that?
[00:46:14.55] I sure can. So one of the things that we created-- it formally became created in 2016, but we'd already been doing it. We just hadn't given it a name. And frankly, Princess Red Wing back in the early days was doing it but hadn't given it a name.
[00:46:31.12] So we created a program called the Indigenous Empowerment Network. And the idea of the network is we are the bridge to create relationships with other partner entities to empower the Indigenous community. And we're doing that through multiple lenses, through job development, through internships, apprenticeships, artists in residency, through art exhibitions, through partner art shows, through job development and entrepreneurship. And we have been doing a myriad of work around that. Even advocacy work is under that lens.
[00:47:12.09] So for example, Rhode Island changed its name. We've been advocating for 10 years for that to change. And so we were thrilled that as more entities started advocating, we feel that our education played a really strong foundation, because we talked to probably 10,000 people over those years, if not 10,000 people a year over those years. So that would be a lot of people that we were impacting to get that move.
[00:47:39.69] Through the Indigenous Empowerment Network, one of the programs we do specifically for the Native community is called Arts and Wellness. And that's when we bring elders, artists, and culture bearers to share back with the Native community. So pine needle basket-making, porcupine quill embroidery, pottery, weaving, all different kinds of things.
[00:48:06.03] It's doing two things. It's elevating the artist culture bearer to an artist teacher, because some people, that's the first time they've ever done it in a formal setting. And then also passing that knowledge back and forth to other people within your community.
[00:48:24.91] We also do a lot with language here. If people go on our YouTube page, Lindsay has been doing a beautiful children's hour that's doing language. If you walk around our museum, there's language. It's not everywhere, but it's in and out of exhibits all over the place. We try to use language whenever we're giving guided tours. Everybody introduces themselves in their own language and teaches various parts to that.
[00:48:53.04] It's really about continuing that traditional ecological knowledge and passing that forward. So the arts, the culture, the history is all interwoven in the land that we're from, as Chris just said. We are the land. What we do to the land, we do to ourselves. So we have to care for the land.
[00:49:10.87] So when people say, oh, a museum isn't about environmental justice. I'm like, what? You can't be an Indigenous-led museum and not be about environmental justice. It's just impossible. It's part of who we are. I always thought it was really bizarre.
[00:49:24.87] And so this is how you have to decolonize someone else's thinking. When I founded Nuweetooun School, I didn't explicitly write "environmental studies," or, like, "learning." I didn't write that out. And I had to go back and rewrite it out because, for the rest of the world, they didn't understand that we did any environmental.
[00:49:43.46] I'm like, the whole thing is environmental knowledge, everything we're doing. If we're finger-weaving and we're going out and picking dogbane, that's science. It's all connected. So we were really having a hard time flipping our minds to a Western ideology to understand that they needed it spelled out.
[00:50:01.72] And so I think everything that we're doing is connected to the continuation of culture. We've been doing Thanksgivings at Tomaquag Museum, many of them, for years and years and years as part of our traditional 13 thanksgivings. Some of them happen at our tribal reservation. But some of them were happening at Tomaquag Museum. And they were for the people, meaning our community, but then also open to the public so they could learn about who we are and what our culture is around and learn a little bit more.
[00:50:35.25] So I think that's something that is really important. It's passing language. It's passing culture. I speak way more of my language after working here for the last 15-odd years than I did before when I was working my job in a public school where I had to speak English all day. Here, I'm speaking the language at some point every day, to the point that my iPhone knows how to just spell certain words because I'm texting it and using it so much.
[00:51:04.92] And I think that's the benefit of tribal or Native-run museums. But I'm in agreement with Chris and Jane that the collections that are in other museums are really important.
[00:51:17.10] We took a group of Native Narragansett kids down to the National Museum of the American Indian. Now, it's sort of Native-run, but it's still an institution that's part of a big structure that's part of the Western ideological ways of thinking. But how impactful and empowering was it for these youth to go down there and see all these things that were Narragansett collections and touch these things and photograph these things and write about it.
[00:51:45.87] I remember one of the stories. One of the youth, he was maybe a sixth grader or seventh grader. And he was writing about a basket that was down there. But he told a whole story about how his great uncle sold baskets.
[00:51:59.07] That's telling a first-person story. It's about a basket that's a Narragansett basket. It's not specifically his uncle's basket. But they told everything they could tell based on the provenance of that basket, but then told their own story.
[00:52:12.63] And I think that's what we do. We tell our own stories. They tell facts in our museum about the exhibits. But they're connecting it to them, their life, their family, their community, and then making it real.
[00:52:25.74] I've been told to my face, oh, no, no. I meant the real Indians. I'm like-- We've been taught such fictional information about the Indigenous peoples of this continent that people really struggle with it. So mainstream museums have to do a better job of getting them to understand that Indigenous people are here.
[00:52:47.44] And so one of the things they have to do is get from the past to the present. And they're very used to going, I'm going to talk about the 16th century. Well, then guess what? You're just going to keep feeding the beast.
[00:53:04.05] They don't understand that we're still here and that there's so much history that, maybe colonial-wise, starts there but doesn't finish there. And they don't understand that. That was not a short answer.
[00:53:18.60] Sorry. I apologize to everyone who has submitted questions. We should have planned a two-hour session. I do want to squeeze in a couple of questions that have come in.
[00:53:30.21] The first one's for Chris. I thought this was interesting. Victoria asks whether you could speak to the question of your institution's name honoring a Euro-American. And I'm guessing she's wondering if, given the changes, there are plans to also rename the Abbe Museum.
[00:53:53.79] So that's a great question. As I said, the original name of the museum was Lafayette National Park Museum of Stone Age Antiquities. Then it became the Robert Abbe Museum of Stone Age Antiquities. And our legal name is actually still the Robert Abbe Museum of Stone Age Antiquities.
[00:54:14.16] As we go through this process of decolonization, this is one of the things that has come up, changing our legal name from that very old-fashioned colonial museum name to the current name which we use. Now, do we want to erase Dr. Abbe completely off of the museum that he founded? I don't think that's absolutely necessary for us to do. The Abbe has name recognition as the Abbe. When I say Robert Abbe, folks would wonder who the heck that was for the most part, unless you're from the Bar Harbor area.
[00:54:52.56] So there's something to be said for the efforts that Dr. Abbey was doing to collect in his time. And we don't want to necessarily erase that whole history. It's about looking to the future. And one of these days, we may change the name. But if we do, we're probably going to change the name completely from the English language and, once again, use one of the dialects of our Wabanaki languages.
[00:55:21.43] So if a name change is necessary at some point in the future as we go throughout this process-- and that may happen because it is a process, and we keep moving along the process as we go. And at some point, our communities may say that we want to rename it and we do want to use our languages in the name of it. So once again, make it a normative. So it's a very good, valid question. At this moment, we are wrestling with it, as we speak.
[00:55:48.72] Well, and we have a name issue, as well, because legally, ours is Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum. We don't use the "Indian" and "Memorial" anymore because we decolonized it. We haven't formally IRS name-changed it yet. But I think that's in our future.
[00:56:08.61] Because public-wise, we're not using the "Indian Memorial" any more, because of course, there's so many problems with "Indian" and "Memorial." Sounds like we're all dead. But we were founded in 1958, and that's the kind of language they used for museums. And so we have to decolonize that.
[00:56:26.49] And so in essence, for branding purposes, we have because we just go with Tomaquag Museum. And "Tomaquag" is a Narragansett word. It actually means "beavers."
[00:56:34.59] For people that don't know, we were originally founded in Tomaquag Valley, which gave us our name. It is in our language, so that makes it Indigenized. But it is not a particular tribe or nation because we're an independent non-profit.
[00:56:48.93] I did notice that someone wrote a question. I don't know. Did you have a different question, Castle, because someone was asking about the word "stolen" to me. Do you want me to answer it?
[00:56:59.07] Sure. That'll probably have to be our last question.
[00:57:04.39] So the question was, do you really think that objects were stolen and repossessed by others to show a different perspective that is different from the real one? And in our history of conquest, a lot of things were stolen. There's so much Narragansett-- and in New England maybe colonial space, the Thirteen Colonies, Indigenous people that are within those borders now that's in Europe. That has truly been stolen and is gone.
[00:57:34.77] Yeah, I'm sure there's some things that have been-- Our museum has things that came to us from anthropologists and archaeologists and other kinds of people. We don't know, beyond who gave it to us, where they got it from. But we know a lot of things are taken from lots of places.
[00:57:55.90] But as our museum continues, we are acquiring new things from the Native community. For the last 50 years, we've been getting things that are from the Native community, as well as from other people. So there's definitely a part of that that is stolen. And it's not 100% everything, but it is certainly other things. And that's part of that conquest that we have to keep re-visiting in decolonization.
[00:58:21.60] Yeah, and I'll just put a rubber stamp on that word, "stolen," especially when it comes to funerary objects. If it came from a grave, there's nobody that gave permission for that grave to be taken, collected, and put inside a building. There's a community of people that would have to be have given that permission, and it never happened. So I don't shy away from that word in certain contexts, as well.
[00:58:52.58] Thank you, Chris. We unfortunately can't get to a lot of good questions. But a couple of people have asked, could you please schedule a follow-up event? Maybe we can think of that because we've barely scratched the surface of so many important and interesting topics. And I want to thank you all for being just fantastic guests.
[00:59:14.28] You're welcome.
[00:59:15.16] And also thank our audience. And unfortunately, Chris has to start another program in less than a minute. So we have a hard stop here. Thank you everyone for joining us. Hopefully we can do it again. Thank you, again, everyone.
[00:59:33.02] Thank you. Goodbye.
[00:59:35.19] Thank you. Kutapatush.
[00:59:37.08] Thank you, everybody.