HISTORY: Hopi view fresh facets of their history in museum trip

Posted on July 12th, 2009 by americanindiannews in Past News

Washington, D.C.–Hopi elders, as well as high school students and their teachers, traveled to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to learn best practices in producing museum exhibitions about American Indians.

By Joelle Clark, Northern Arizona University  Irvin Poleahla, who is Hopi, films at Spruce Tree House in Mesa Verde National Park, Colo., during a day with Footprints of the Ancestors, a six-year project to deepen cultural knowledge among Hopi youth. The Northern Arizona University program brought high-school-age students together with Hopi elders at archaeological sites.

By Joelle ClarkNorthern Arizona University Irvin Poleahla, who is Hopi, films at Spruce Tree House in Mesa Verde National Park, Colo., during a day with Footprints of the Ancestors, a six-year project to deepen cultural knowledge among Hopi youth. The Northern Arizona University program brought high-school-age students together with Hopi elders at archaeological sites.

The group, which included staff from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, visited the museum’s Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Md., where they viewed ancient Hopi cultural items. They met with curators and other staff to confer about the 16 students’ ideas for creating their own exhibition about Hopi culture.

Joelle Clark, of Northern Arizona University, said many of the students brought some part of their traditional dress to the museum and sang a Hopi song for the staff. The group was able to view the museum’s collection of Hopi objects including woven clothing several hundred years old, which most had not seen before.

The museum staff hosted a potluck to welcome them. “They brought this incredible feast,” said Clark, who coordinates professional development projects in the anthropology department. “Everything was special. I think that’s something that Native people don’t expect when they visit a museum.”

By George Gumerman, Northern Arizona University  As part of the Footprints of the Ancestors program, Hopi students came to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to see artifacts and enjoy a potluck with staff.

By George GumermanNorthern Arizona UniversityAs part of the Footprints of the Ancestors program, Hopi students came to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to see artifacts and enjoy a potluck with staff.

The trip, which also brought the Hopi visitors to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., is the culmination of a six-year project to promote Hopi culture among youth. Students will develop multimedia exhibitions in the coming months based on what they’ve learned.

Over the past several years, the program, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, brought the students to Hopi archaeological sites, where elders shared history with them. Teachers developed curriculum and students learned about the footprints of their ancestors, as the Hopi call the archaeological sites and related oral history.

The program was developed in collaboration between Northern Arizona University and the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. Dr. George Gumerman IV, an anthropology professor at the university, said the program has deeply affected the teens involved.

“One mother became very emotional when sharing just how much these experiences have influenced her daughter,” Gumerman said. “With tears in her eyes, the mother exclaimed how our summer journeys to their ancestral sites have changed her daughter’s life.”

The National Museum of the American Indian welcomes tribal groups to visit the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Md. Appointments to view artifacts in the museum’s storage facility should be made two or three months in advance. To make an appointment, call Pat Nietfeld at (301) 238-1454 or fax at (301) 238-3210 or email at nmaicollections@si.edu.

–By Kara Briggs

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