Native Americans have a tortured relationship with museums. By using a historically unquestioned authority to take Native objects and remains and to define who and what Native Americans are, museums have, in many ways, trapped Native Americans behind their glassed-in cases, rendering vital, contemporary Native voices silent, dynamic Native cultures invisible. The relationship between Native American and Indigenous communities and mainstream museums has changed significantly in recent decades as a result of Native involvement in new museum theory and practice. These changes include the sharing of curatorial ideas, engagement in collaborative partnerships, and efforts to integrate Indigenous knowledges and perspectives.
This lecture considers: (1) the ways in which mainstream museums have historically served as colonizing forces through the representation of Native peoples and the use of western curatorial methodologies; (2) the ways in which such museums can “decolonize” and “indigenize” in an effort to promote healing and understanding; and (3) the ways in which Tribal cultural centers and museums use, challenge, and reimagine long-standing curatorial practices while themselves wrestling with questions of representation, truth-telling, and the complexities of shared histories and memories. Cobb-Greetham uses three sites as case studies, including the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian; the First American Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.