Masters Thesis

Displaying the past: representation and interpretation of Native American cultures in several California museums

Interviews were conducted at thirteen Northern California museums, which were selected because of their Native American collections and programming. The purpose of the field research was to determine the philosophies of the museums in connection with two questions: "Who owns Native American Artifacts" and "Are Native Americans involved in museum programming?" The introduction discusses the current political controversy concerning museum policies of holding artifacts which may have been wrongly taken from other cultures. It was found as a result of the field research that only one of the Northern California museum administrators interviewed felt that the artifacts belonged to the originating culture, and six out of the thirteen museums visited had involved Native American leaders in their interactive programs in the last few years. Various interactive programs are described which show great creativity in the involvement of Native American presenters-- artists, story-tellers, writers, weavers, historians, dancers, and spiritual leaders. The field researcher found an unexpected relationship between the association of museums with colleges or universities and an increased use of Native Americans in high quality museum programming. This relationship can be explored in further research. Recommendations are made to educate museum professionals in the area of political sensitivity to Native American leadership and ownership of artifacts.