The mission of The Smoki Museum is to instill understanding and respect for the indigenous cultures of the Southwest.
by Cindy Gresser, Executive Director, The Smoki Museum
As most people here in Prescott know, the museum underwent a fundamental change in thought and philosophy over 10 years ago. We started telling our “sordid” history through the eyes of many people, and continue to this day telling our story – factually. The white men and women that founded our institution imitated Native dance and ceremony for nearly 70 years. Yes, that’s our past.
However, today we work toward our mission through education. Our special exhibits, permanent exhibits, classes, lectures and outreach are all directly targeted toward educating the public about our nation’s indigenous people. And what we find is that most people, especially from ages 18 to 70, really received no valuable information about Native people, or they think that, “all the real Indians are dead.”
Many museums present information about our Native people solely in the past tense through strictly archaeological collections that do not always represent the current state of our Indian people. You mean there are Indian people in Prescott other than the Yavapai? What do they do? Who are they? We have a wonderful exhibit that just opened in the museum that answers those questions and more.
So, what did you learn in school about our Native people?
If you were like me, and I grew up in Central Massachusetts, you learned that there was a colony of people (from England) in Virginia, but they all died. And then there was Plymouth Rock. The Indians gave those people corn and turkey, and we all lived happily ever after.
Then came high school, and there was this group called AIM and they did “bad things” and occupied Alacatraz. But why? Weren’t all the Indians on their reservations receiving assistance from our federal government, and living happily ever after?
Only as an adult did I come to realize that our Native people – the Indians of America, still had living, breathing active cultures. The fact that these people still practiced traditional ways, ceremonies and ran businesses was a foreign concept to me before the age of 18. Once I moved to Arizona, only then did I ever have the opportunity to learn more and actually visit Indian homelands.
As the Executive Director of The Smoki Museum, I am fortunate that we get to see hundreds of schoolchildren, usually third and fourth graders, come through the museum. In the short time they are here, we attempt to educate them about our Native people – past and present – through our exhibits and hands-on activities. How much do they retain? The answer is unknown, but the cards and letters we receive are really cute.
What about the kids who can’t afford to come to the museum? Even in Yavapai County, many schools cannot afford the cost of buses to give children an authentic museum experience. How do we ensure that they, too, receive accurate and quality information about our Native people?
According to local teachers, there is not a good teaching tool currently available to provide accurate, concise information about Arizona’s Native people. Many of the books and subject matter available have not been authored by the Native people, but rather by scholars studying them. Does that really provide information that Native people wish others to learn about them?
In response, The Smoki Museum is pleased to announce the debut of our new educational program “22 Nations … TODAY®”. Starting first as an informational booklet specific to third and fourth graders, this program will expand to provide relevant information to young children as well as high school students and adults. Did you know that there are 22 separate Indian nations within the State of Arizona? Can you name more than three or four of them?
We bet, not! Stay tuned for more information and to obtain your own copy of “22 Nations … TODAY®”