The renovated museum hall in New York shows the views of the indigenous people

NEW YORK ‘On my first visit to the American Museum of Natural History, Morgan Guerin had a list. But not the things he wanted to check – a list of things he hated.

He began by seeing certain regalia from his Musqueam Indian Band – sacred items not intended for public display – in the museum’s northwest coast hall.

It was not just a visit. Guerin was there at the invitation of the museum in 2017 to launch a project to renovate the hall, including views of indigenous peoples. For him and representatives of other local communities in the Northwest Pacific and western Canada, the $ 19 million 5-year renovation of Northwest Coast Hall, which reopened to the public on Friday, was an opportunity to tell their own stories. .

“Our people are very, very tired of being ‘studied’ because the misconception of who we are has always been the downfall of the outside community,” he said. “We have always been here, ready to tell people who we are.


The hall was the first gallery of the museum, opened in 1899 under the auspices of Franz Boas, an anthropologist who was deeply interested in the local cultures of northwestern and western coastal Canada. Boas was also a supporter of the then revolutionary idea that different cultures should be considered on their own and not on a comparative scale.

But it has remained largely unchanged since the early 1900s. When the museum staff decided it was time to renovate, they knew they could not do it without the contribution of the people whose cultures were on display.

“Much of what we’ve done has been trying to take this historical collection into the 21st century, and that’s by telling new stories with active voices in all these communities and nations,” said Lauri Halderman, vice president of exhibition.

The museum brought together representatives of local communities to talk about what the gallery should contain and what it should look like for a showcase of 10 tribal nations from the Northwest Pacific.


It was not a simple process, made even less by the impact of the pandemic, which required remote control instead of personal cooperation.

“We didn’t really have a process or a roadmap in front of us. We had to understand that as we walked … it’s hard work, “Halderman said.” But I think it was confirmed beyond all expectations when everyone came and said how proud they were. “

The hall includes some iconic items that anyone who has been to the museum will remember – including a massive 63-foot canoe that has been placed outside the hall for decades but is now imported and hung from the ceiling along with several giant carvings. .

What’s new, the exhibits are accompanied by text in English and indigenous languages, and the hall includes a gallery section showing how younger indigenous artists use motifs and designs from previous generations. There is also a video with people talking about the past of the tribes and their worries about the present.


The main question remains whether museums should keep these collections and try to tell these stories in the first place, given the role that theft and colonization played in their construction and the way local communities were treated.

“Museums seem to function very expensive, and in the case of the American Museum of Natural History, perhaps the most expensive trophy cases in the world,” said Haayups, a co-founder of the hall who heads the House of Taḳiishtaḳamlthat-ḥ, the first nation of Huupa. ‘chesat-ḥ.

He said: “They seem to have a metalanguage for themselves or a meta-message:” Aren’t we strong? Don’t we go out and dominate the world?

Haa’yuups saw their involvement as a way to help foster the difference, to make people think about whether the items on display would be better served if they were with the people they came from.

“Does it make sense to have a bunch of people who have nothing to do with these sites, to make them spend their lives managing them?” He said. “Or does it make sense to send these treasures back to the communities they come from?”


This is a problem that the museum has and continues to struggle with, said Peter Whiteley, curator of North American ethnology. He said the institution, which has repatriated items over the years, has decided through the renovation process that it is ready to make further limited repatriations and develop greater co-operation between the museum and local tribes.

Despite deeper questions, indigenous members and museum staff involved in the process said it showed what was possible in terms of cooperation and listening to the voices of indigenous peoples.

“The best thing about this, the result of these consultants from different local tribes,” said David Boxley, a Cimshian tribal, “is that our voice speaks.”


Hajela is a member of the AP team, which covers race and ethnicity. She is on Twitter twitter.com/dhajela

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

The renovated museum hall in New York shows the views of the indigenous people

Source link The renovated museum hall in New York shows the views of the indigenous people

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