August 26, 2016

Meet Native America: Dr. Michael E. Marchand, Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh

Chairman Michael E. Marchand
Chairman Michael E. Marchand, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Photo courtesy of the Colville Tribes.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

I'm Dr. Michael E. Marchand, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname?

It's Qualth-a-meen. It means Wolverine.

Where is your tribal community located?

The Colville Indian Reservation covers 1.4 million acres in north central Washington.

Where is your tribe originally from?

The 12 tribes that make up the confederation—their English and French names are the Colville, Nespelem, San Poil, Lake, Palus, Wenatchi (Wenatchee), Chelan, Entiat, Methow, southern Okanogan, Moses Columbia, and Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce—were from a large area, including parts of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. They hunted buffalo over an even larger area of the Great Plains in Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Alberta. 

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

I would choose the time in the 1970s when termination was stopped. The Klamath Tribe had just been terminated, and we were next in line. A determined effort by us and tribes across the nation stopped this policy, and we were saved.

How is your tribal government set up?

The Colville Tribes adopted a constitution in 1938. It replaced 12 traditional chiefs with a 14-person elected Council. The Council has full powers to manage the tribe's lands and assets, and all activities on the reservation.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Yes, but it varies amongst the 12 tribes.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Terms are two years long. Seven seats are up for election each year.

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman?

My goals are to protect and manage our lands, protect and enhance our culture and traditions, and protect our sovereignty. Also to help our members achieve their own potentials.

 


Fisheries signingDuring an earlier term as chairman, Dr. Marchand signed the Columbia River Basin Fish Accords on behalf of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. From left to right: Col. Steven Miles, Northwestern Division commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Dr. Marchand; and Ralph Sampson, at that time chairman of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council. Columbia Hills State Park, Washington; May 8, 2008. Photo courtesy of the Columbia River Basin Federal Caucus.

 

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

I worked my way up through the tribe's organization from bottom to top. Went to college. Lived on the reservation, hunting and fishing, participating in community events and traditions, and was lucky to have role models including grandparents and uncles and cousins who helped raise me.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My grandfather was a chairman, too, and he spent time with me. Dennis Banks was important too—I met him when I was a teen.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

My grandfather John Cleveland, the grandfather who was one of our chairmen. My family also descended from many of our chiefs, including Chief Silcosasket of the Entiat Tribe and Chief Aurapahkin of the Arrow Lakes Tribe. Both chiefs were important to our people in their day.

Approximately how many members are in the Colville Tribes?

We have about 9,400 members.

What are the criteria to become a member?

To be a member, a person must either be one-quarter Colville blood from the official 1938 rolls or else be a member of the Okanagan or Arrow Lakes tribes from Canada. Some of our people were cut off by the U.S.–Canadian border.

Are your languages still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

Our languages are in danger of being lost. Probably fewer than five percent of the people still speak them. But we are taking steps to save them and to teach the next generation.

What economic enterprises do the tribes own?

Through the Colville Tribal Federal Corporation we own sawmills, casinos, convenience stores, grocery stores, and a security guard company.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

Many, but a couple important ones are the Nespelem 4th of July Celebration and the Omak Stampede and Suicide Race, held the second weekend of August.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The most prominent attractions are Grand Coulee Damour tribal museumLake Chelan and many other lakes, and our three casinos.

How does your tribe deal with the United States and Canada as a sovereign nation?

Currently we have a lawsuit pending against Canada for lands confiscated from our people. We are very active in U.S. relations.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?

Serve Mother Earth and your people as best you can and get yourself educated.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Tribal people need to step up and save the planet. A lot of effort was spent to destroy us, but we are still here. We need to take advantage of our life now.

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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August 22, 2016

"The heart of what we do." An Interview with Collections Manager Gail Joice

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has two public facilities, the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. A third facility, the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland, is home for the museum’s collections. This post, the fourth and final in a series of interviews of staff members who work at the CRC, looks at the career of a collections manager.

Also in this series: Becoming a ConservatorLogisitics and Detail: Museum Registration, and Perspectives on Museum Archives


Please describe your background and why you went into museum work.

My academic career began as a studio art major at the University of Washington in Seattle. After two years, I realized that I objectively couldn’t see myself making a living as an artist. Even within my program, there were so many better artists, and I didn’t have the fire in my belly to really starve for my art! Thinking about other professional options, I realized how interesting I had found my art history courses.

During this time, I held a couple of volunteer positions at museums near the university. The university’s Henry Art Gallery had an archival collection for Northwest artists, which I worked on by interviewing local gallery owners who knew the local artists’ histories well. It was during this work that I began to think about a museum career.

I went on to get my master’s degree in Art History at U. C.-Berkeley. During my undergraduate degree, I developed an interest in Gothic and medieval architecture and decorative arts, which is the topic I pursued in my MA. During this time, I also volunteered with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and took a Berkeley graduate course that involved writing exhibition catalog text for the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum, also in San Francisco. Before graduation, I was looking at the College Art Association’s job postings and saw that there was only one medieval art history position in the entire U.S. that year, and it was in Little Rock, Arkansas. Nothing against Little Rock, but it just wasn’t for me! It was during this time—while I was also being encouraged to complete Berkeley’s average nine-year PhD—that I realized what an interesting art historical culture existed outside of academia, in museums.

At that point, I was really looking to build a career in the museum field and began by getting an internship. I applied to a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) internship in Washington, D.C., and had an amazing opportunity working with the Museum Program for four months to look at many different museum grants and programs.

When I was on the phone with someone at Berkeley about my NEA internship, she mentioned that the Berkeley University Art Museum had an opening for an assistant registrar. In an amazing case of serendipity, that was my first museum job.

Berkeley’s staff was very small, so their registration department also acted as a collections management department. While I was there, I worked with rights and reproductions, the Asian art collections, storage facilities, condition reports, and object handling. I spent a lot of time working hands-on with the collections, which I found incredibly satisfying.

Why the National Museum of the American Indian? And why Collections Management?

When the head registrar’s position opened up at the Seattle Museum, I applied and ended up staying there for 25 years! There, medieval art began to take a backseat, and I instead became interested in Asian, particularly Japanese, art, which I still love. 

Joice photo
Gail Joice, supervisory collections manager at the National Museum of the American Indian.

In 1991, the museum accessioned an important collection of Northwest Coast Native objects. With this acquisition, we began a lengthy consultation process, where we spoke with Tlingit elders about their traditional knowledge, which I found immensely rewarding and inspiring. Although I wasn’t raised in any traditional ways, I have Cherokee heritage on my mother’s side. I grew up with Miwok–Paiute and Pomo friends in Yosemite National Park, California, where I was born, and one of them, Lucy Parker, is now a famous California basket-maker. This background helped me realize that I wanted to be involved at the very beginning in the opening of the new “Native Place” on the National Mall. It was starting a second career for me, after 25 years at the Seattle Art Museum, and I’m so glad that I did! 

Describe your average workday.
I’ve recently transitioned from working at the museum on the Mall as collections manager to working full time at the CRC as supervisory collections manager. Objects move back and forth between the buildings frequently, and the majority of my hands-on object work at the museum on the Mall took place during exhibition installations or providing gallery object care. At the CRC we are fortunate to have the connection with the people whose ancestors made the objects, with Native artists, with researchers who are working with the collections and young Native people who are considering museum careers as NMAI interns.

What has always drawn me to the CRC is the fact that this place is the heart of what we do. I’m an objects person and I always have been one, but the additional pleasure here is learning from all the constituents that come in. One of my favorite things is working with tribal elders in the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices program.

I’m lucky to have a nice mix. I’m an administrator who supervises two collections managers (at the museums in D.C. and New York) and four collections specialists. I work with the collections, and I also work with colleagues in other departments. My new position at the CRC involves being concerned with the environment of the building, which is critical to collections care. Because of this, I have begun a CRC HVAC working group with staff from conservation, collections, facilities, archives, photo services, and the library communicating about environmental problem-solving in the building.

But, like most other people, I still spend at least 25 percent of my day at a computer!

If you had to pick, what is your favorite object in the collections?

California basketry holds a special place in my heart. As I mentioned, I grew up with Miwok–Paiute and Pomo weavers living in Yosemite. Basket weaving is especially important to me, as it is a woman’s craft, a spiritual activity, and it is very difficult to do! Our aisle of California baskets here at NMAI is one of my favorite places to take tours.

26–2688

26–2687

 

Above: Julia Parker (Kashaya Pomo, Coast Miwok; b. 1929), miniature basket with cover. Julia's daughter Lucy—a renowned basket-maker in her own right—is a childhood friend of Gail's. Yosemite National Park, Mariposa County, California; 2003. Sedge root, willow, glass beads; diam 4.5 cm. (26/2688) NMAI Photo Services
Right: Lucy Parker (Yosemite Paiute, Coast Miwok, Mono Lake Paiute, Kashaya Pomo; b. 1953), work tray. Lee Vining, California; 2003. Willow; diam 62 cm. (26/2687) NMAI Photo Services

 

Could you give a piece of advice to readers who might be aspiring museum professionals?

I really think that getting an internship in a museum is the best advice I can give. Internships get you deeper inside of an institution than you would get through a volunteer position. My internship with the National Endowment for the Arts really kick-started this career, and the same goes for the interns I supervise now. My first intern at NMAI in 2004 is now the director of her tribal museum! I’ve had an intern who is now a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and another who works with her tribal community cultural center. It is inspiring to see the new generation of museum collections professionals develop.

Thank you.

—Lillia McEnaney, NMAI


Lillia McEnaney is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and Religious Studies at Hamilton College; she will graduate in spring 2017. Lillia is a research assistant for Hamilton’s Religious Studies Department, the blog intern for the Council for Museum Anthropology, the webmaster for Art/Place Gallery, a content contributor for Center for Art Law, and an intern for SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone. She is a summer collections management intern at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center.

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August 19, 2016

Meet Native America: Theodore Hernandez, Chairman of the Wiyot Tribe

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh

Chmn & Ms. Hernandez
Wiyot Tribal Chairman Theodore Hernandez and his wife, Rose Hernandez. March 2016, Loleta, California.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

I'm Theodore Hernandez, chairman of the Wiyot Tribe, located on the Table Bluff Reservation.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname?

My nickname with the youth on the Table Bluff Reservation is Gray Wolf. Most people know me as Ted.

Where is your reservation located?

The Table Bluff Reservation is in Northern California on the outskirts of Loleta, California. Our main office and tribal reservation overlook Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

Where is your tribe originally from?

Wiyot people have always lived along the Pacific Ocean and around Humboldt Bay. Before the 1850s and the times of the Gold Rush, the Wiyot people covered 40 miles of coastline, going inland about 10 miles. The tribe’s ancestral territory includes Little River to the north, Bear River Ridge to the south, and from the Pacific Coast out to as far as Berry Summit in the northeast and Chalk Mountain in the southeast.

What is a significant point in history for your tribe that you would like to share?

For the Wiyot people there are a couple points in history that are unquestionably significant. We can never forget about the lives we lost during the massacre in the 1860s on Indian Island in Humboldt Bay, as well as on the banks of the Eel River and Mad River. This major event in history practically brought the Wiyot people to extinction. In fact, in the early 1900s there were only about one hundred tribal members.

Shortly after the early 1900s though, the tribe began to prosper again and grow our membership. Sadly, hardship hit the Wiyot people again, this time in 1961 when the California Rancheria Act terminated the legal status of the tribe and the Wiyot effectively became non-Indian Indians. A major thank-you goes out to Wiyot tribal members Albert and Beverly James and their families who fought to get the tribe's rights back and ultimately succeeded. In 1975 the tribe filed suit against the federal government for unlawful termination, and in 1981 federal recognition and trust status was reinstated.

How is your tribal community government set up?

Our Tribal Council is made up of seven tribal members who are elected by the tribal membership. The Wiyot Tribe has a chairman, vice-chairman, secretary, treasurer and three members-at-large who assist with representing the tribal membership.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

The Wiyot Tribe has committees that council members and other interested tribal members sit on. These committees represent our membership and tribe throughout the organization. Traditionally we respect our tribal elders and their wisdom, which is often consulted.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Council members of the Wiyot tribe have a staggered four-year term for each position on the Tribal Council.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

Our Tribal Council has Business Council meetings twice a month. Tribal membership is also asked to attend these meetings and take part in the public forum. The council also meets at different times throughout the year for committee meetings and economic development meetings. In addition to our Business Council meetings, we also have General Council meetings twice a year.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribal community?

I believe that all my life experiences, both good and bad, helped me to become who I am today and have aided me has a tribal leader. Throughout life I gained experience in everything I did and specifically by taking part in the workforce. I started as a laborer and worked my way up to management, developing business leadership skills. I regained my cultural drive to lead the tribe when I was able to participate in my daughter's coming-of-age dance. This moment in my time brought the tribe's culture back into my life and motivated me to make it my goal to reach tribal leadership and strive to do better for the tribal membership.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

I consider my main responsibility as the tribal chairman to be to provide for and make the best decisions for tribal members. It is especially important to provide for the youth of the tribe and to insure their well-being and success, since they after all will be the future of our tribe.

Chmn Theodore HernandezChairman Hernandez taking part in the unveiling of a mural created by students at Humboldt State University in collaboration with the artist Saba (Randy Sabaque) and the wider community. The mural celebrates the cultures of traditionally underrepresented students at Humboldt State. December 2015, UC Quad, Humboldt State University, Arcata, California.


Who inspired you as a mentor?

My mother was the biggest inspiration in my life. She possessed strong leadership skills and outstanding morals. There have also been numerous elders who have influenced me through their teaching of our culture and their stories.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

There are approximately 640 enrolled members in the Wiyot Tribe.

What are the criteria to become a Wiyot tribal member?

Our membership requirement is through blood quantum. Each member is required to have one-eighth Wiyot blood to be considered for enrollment. Furthermore, if you are a descendant from a base roll member you are automatically qualified to be a Wiyot tribal member.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

There are no remaining fluent Wiyot speakers that we know of at this time. The last known fluent speakers died between the 1940s and 1960s. Some of their descendants know some words or phrases, but there is no one left who could have a full conversation in Wiyot. At this time Dr. Lynnika Butler, the tribe's language specialist, is learning the Wiyot language from audio recordings, written word lists, stories, etc., that were gained from the elders who spoke the Wiyot Language. Dr. Butler then teaches Wiyot to the youth and other tribal membership through language workshops.

What annual events does your tribal community sponsor?

One of the biggest events that the tribe hosts is the annual Wiyot Days. Wiyot Days brings Native American dancers and drummers from across the Northwest to perform during the ceremonies. At Wiyot Days there is also a friendly competition among the men of the Wiyot Tribe in traditional game sticks, a salmon feed, and various things offered by local vendors. In addition to Wiyot Days, in 2014 the Wiyot Tribe started observing our World Renewal Ceremony, which hadn’t been done in over 150 years. The tribe is also proud to support the Boys and Girls Club of the Table Bluff Reservation and local youth sport teams.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Wiyot Tribe on Table Bluff Reservation overlooks Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Ocean, so our scenic views and beach access are like nowhere else. Moreover, the Wiyot Tribe also has an onsite Heritage Center where priceless artifacts and one-of-a-kind paintings can be viewed. If the beach and bay are not your thing, if you visit the Wiyot area you can also hike along the redwood trails and enjoy the towering redwoods above you.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribal community?

I would like to encourage the youth in our tribal community to continue to practice our beliefs, traditions, and language, to keep our cultural alive and to pass it on to future generations. I also would like to encourage our youth to seek higher education, to enrich their lives as individuals and make them able to offer their hand to our community and assist the tribe in growth and development with the wisdom they gain. I also believe our youth should always listen to the elders in the community, to learn from their stories and pass our history on to future generations.

Thank you.

Thank you.


Photos courtesy of the Wiyot Tribe; used with permission.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

 

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August 12, 2016

Perspectives on Museum Archives: An Interview with Archives Technician Rachel Menyuk

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has two public facilities, the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. A third facility, the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland, is home for the museum’s collections. This post, the third in a series of interviews of staff members who work at the CRC, looks at the career of an archivist.

Also in this series: Becoming a Conservator and Logistics and Detail: Museum Registration.


Describe your background for us. Why did you go into museum archive work?

I sort of got into archival work in a complicated way. Most archivists have a degree in Library Science with a focus on Archival Studies. I actually don’t! I did my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Theatre. After graduating, I went on to New York University (NYU) to get a master’s degree in Performance Studies, which combines anthropology and theatre, particularly the study of theatre history. At NYU I focused on political theatre in indigenous communities in Latin and South America and also on women using performance as a means of social protest.

While I was living in New York and going to school, I needed to find a job, so I went to NYU’s library and asked what kinds of positions they had for graduate students. They turned out to be hiring a graduate assistant in the Tamiment & Wagner Labor Archives. During my interview, I said, “You know, I don't have any archival experiences, but I love libraries!” I later heard that they were so impressed with my enthusiasm, it was the reason that they hired me! I had also previously worked with Jewish organizations, so I had that knowledge base for understanding the collection they wanted me to process.

I ended up loving the work, and I especially loved the research process—getting my hands dirty with the information. That is one of my favorite things about working in archives: You really are able to focus on the research. The head archivist at NYU at the time really took me under her wing, and I gained amazing experience in working with and processing large, organizational records.

Rachel MenyukRachel Menyuk, archive technician at the National Museum of the American Indian.

When I finished my degree in Performance Studies and moved back to the D.C. area, I realized I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I began looking at other options at museums. I saw a posting for a three-month contract position processing organizational records at a “museum in D.C.” Though the posting didn’t mention which museum, they were specifically looking for someone who knew how to use Archivist Toolkit, which is a particular database that archivists use. I knew how to use Archivists Toolkit, and I had just spent the last two years processing huge organizational records. It was just luck that the museum ended up being NMAI. I had always loved the National Museum of the American Indian. I had been in D.C. when the museum opened and was taking a class where I got to review the opening exhibitions, and I really loved the museum and its collections.

That was six years ago, and since then I’ve become a permanent federal employee. Our former head archivist, Jennifer O’Neal, also really took me under her wing. I’ve been lucky to have some really great mentors who have continued to inspire me to keep learning about the archival profession, the history of NMAI collections, and the incredible value of working directly with Native communities.

What does your average workday look like?

The average day has changed a lot for me because we’ve hired more staff. Recently I’ve been more focused on processing, which means I'm working with archival collections that have not been organized yet. This is a long process of inventorying, organizing, arranging, and describing materials to produce a guide to each collection that will then go online. That is my main task right now. Once that is done, I also write blog posts about the collections, work with communities to look at digitization of collections, and deal with the transcription center. That is really what I do on a day-to-day basis.

Previously I was working a lot with researchers. Even though we now have someone who is working on that specifically, if someone contacts us about a collection that I know a lot about, I will work on that, which falls under the reference umbrella. I also frequently talk about the Archive Center on tours of the Cultural Resources Center. This summer in particular, I’ve been working really closely with our interns and helping them through their projects.

I do attend meetings sometimes, and the ones that I attend usually have to deal with cross-Smithsonian archival groups. There are 14 archival repositories across the Smithsonian, and we want to put all of these collections together online, which requires standards. I’m really embedded in that world.

So, my day can really encompass a lot of different things.

If you had to pick, what is your favorite object in the collections?

N27245
Frank C. Churchill (1850–1912), portrait of E-me-yob-be or Semo (Choctaw), 1901. Tuskahoma, Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. Acetate negative, 5 x 7 in. (N27245)

This is such a hard question to answer because it is constantly changing depending on what I’m working on. I can tell you a little about the collection I'm about to start working on, the Churchill Collection. Frank Churchill was an Indian inspector for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He went around visiting Indian boarding schools across the United States between 1899 and 1909, and his wife traveled with him. Together they took thousands of photographs (we have 30-plus albums!), and she, Clara, wrote journals documenting everywhere they went. Their personal perspective is obviously a little off, as they were all about assimilation, but the collection shows a snippet about this part of history that really needs to be remembered and brought to life. Clara was really good about documenting people’s names, so we can add names to faces, which is not always the case. It’s a really important collection that we can hopefully get digitized and give people access to.

Could you give a piece of advice to readers who might be aspiring museum or archives professionals?

I think it is really important to have some kind of subject interest, in addition to the practical archival skills. It will make it so much easier in the long run if you have a background in something, even if it is as basic as history. With that, there are a lot of dual degrees now. For example, one of our interns, Kelsey, is doing a dual degree in Archives and Art History so she can work specifically with artists’ records. Doing that type of program is helpful because you can’t get boxed into one viewpoint. You get a broader perspective, which helps a lot in the museum world.

Thank you.

—Lillia McEnaney, NMAI

Lillia McEnaney is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and Religious Studies at Hamilton College; she will graduate in spring 2017. Lillia is a research assistant for Hamilton’s Religious Studies Department, the blog intern for the Council for Museum Anthropology, the webmaster for Art/Place Gallery, a content contributor for Center for Art Law, and an intern for SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone. She is a summer collections management intern at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center.

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i heard lots of interesting stories through our librarian. The stories of some peoples are the most interesting.

August 05, 2016

"A huge amount of logistical and detail work!" An Interview with Museum Registration Specialist Allison Dixon

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has two public facilities—the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. A third facility—the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland—is home for the museum’s collections. This interview, the second in a series of conversations with staff members who work at the CRC, explores museum registration.

Also in this series: Becoming a Conservator and Perspectives on Museum Archives.


What’s your background? Why did you go into museum work?

I really got interested in this field because I’ve always loved history. My parents had an RV when I was growing up, and we would drive up and down the East Coast during the summers visiting all the historical sites we could. I think those trips really fostered my love for history.

I went on to get my bachelor’s degree in Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington. I thought that sounded more practical than a history degree, although I’m not sure if you can say that any degree in the cultural arts is “practical.” Anyway, I then got my master’s in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins.

Before I came to the museum, I worked as a National Park Service ranger in Maryland and then moved on to being a museum technician for the Park Service, where I managed the collections of the memorials and monuments on the National Mall in D.C. I’ve been at NMAI for a little over two years now. It’s been fun.

Why the National Museum of the American Indian? Why the Office of the Registrar?

I’ve always been really interested in the role of a museum as a place for advocacy. A lot of the times we think about that term as the Civil Rights Museum, the Holocaust Museum—clear centers of social change. I didn’t realize that about NMAI until I got here. This museum was built as a place for advocacy and as a place that would mean something to Native communities, which I really enjoy even though my background is in museum management not Native Studies.

Though my degrees have been more focused on museum education rather than on registration, my work experience has always been in collections management and cultural resource management. This experience built me up towards registration at the Smithsonian. This is the first position I’ve had that was 100 percent registration all the time, as my previous positions were more diverse. But registration had always been a portion of the type of work I’ve done. I really enjoy registration—it’s a huge amount of logistical and detail work. You need the right personality!

What does your average workday look like?

It’s always really different. Right now I’m the registrar for a couple of different exhibits—Nation to NationInfinity of Nations—and I worked with Glittering World until its recent closure. I follow a lot of projects through the approval process, deal with a huge amount of email communications, and there is a lot of “hurry up and wait!”

I also handle “registration problems.” These come up when the objects and the information about them don’t correlate. This is where my professional sleuthing skills come in handy! It may take some time, but we can usually resolve the problem and correct the data.

Other than that, the majority of my job is actually collections inventory. Most years NMAI does a large inventory with a random sample of about 5,400 collections. We do this to make sure that our accountability and tracking systems work. Can we find what we think we have, where we think it is, in the condition we think it’s in? Also this year we are doing a few smaller project inventories to fix the little snafus in the collection. I’m working on this with my intern, Cassandra Kist from the Alberta-Smithsonian Intern Program.

Pomo basket 24:2135
Pomo basket, AD 1900–1930. California. Willow, sedge root, mallard duck feathers, red-winged blackbird feathers, yellow grosbeak feathers, quail feathers, shell beads, cordage. 12 x 3.5 cm. Photo by Walter Larrimore, NMAI. (24/2135)

If you had to pick, what is your favorite object in the collections?

I think my favorite collection is the Pomo baskets from California. They’re so brightly colored, and the weaving and beading is so intricate. There are quail topknots on each basket—feathers from dozens of quails on each one of those baskets. After my final interview here, I was taken around on a tour of the collections, and when we got to those baskets, I was like, “I’m in!”

Could you give a piece of advice to readers who might be aspiring museum professionals?

Do a lot of internships in a lot of different fields. I think a lot of students think they want to be a curator because it’s the only job title they’ve ever heard of. Think about interning in registration, exhibition design, education, collections management, or archives. Apply for any job that you see; it’s a competitive field, and there are always a lot of eager young graduate students. Apply, apply, apply!

And yes, there are paid internships out there! You can make a living doing this work. Last, find someone who knows how to navigate the USAJobs website so you can successfully sift through the application process at the Smithsonian!

Thank you.

-Lillia McEnaney, NMAI

Lillia McEnaney is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and Religious Studies at Hamilton College; she will graduate in spring 2017. Lillia is a research assistant for Hamilton’s Religious Studies Department, the blog intern for the Council for Museum Anthropology, the webmaster for Art/Place Gallery, a content contributor for Center for Art Law, and an intern for SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone. She is a summer collections management intern at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center.

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