August 13, 2017

Doing "what I could," Wilma Mankiller changed Native America

Review by Sequoia Carrillo

Wilma Mankiller
Wilma Mankiller. Photo by James Schnepf, courtesy of the Wilma Mankiller Foundation.

“I hope that when I leave it will just be said: I did what I could.” –Wilma Mankiller

In Mankiller, by filmmaker Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, the legacy of a true female powerhouse is explored. Born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in 1945, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Wilma Mankiller was the sixth of eleven children. When she was 11 years old, her family moved to San Francisco under the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Relocation Program. The move was supposed to relieve the family of the poor living conditions in their homeland and bring them to a “modern world.”

Through archival footage and photographs, the documentary depicts the obvious flaws in the BIA’s reasoning. The Mankillers’ move to the Bay Area resulted in dangerous conditions and the striking realization that they were poor. In Oklahoma they often lacked running water and electricity, but they consistently had a community of people who lived the same way. They quickly found that what was poor in Oklahoma was destitute in California.

“It was in San Francisco during the Civil Rights Era that she found her voice and the power to make change.” —President Bill Clinton

A teenage Wilma Mankiller acclimated to an environment with elevators and societal unrest as the 1960s roared around her. Although she was a peer with many of the student activists who gave the San Francisco Protest movement its voice, by the time she was 20 years old she was married and a mother of two. Despite this, she assisted and supported the early Black Panthers in their mission to feed elders and children. In fact, her daughters emphasize in an interview clip that the political and activist side of life was always a given with their mother.


“Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival begins to play as archival footage of the occupation of Alcatraz rolls. The film does a brilliant job of depicting the spark that Alcatraz set off inside Wilma Mankiller. She and her family participated in the protests alongside such activists as John Trudell and Richard Oakes. Many Indians herald the occupation, which began in November 1969 and lasted 19 months, as the event that brought Native America into the modern era. The occupation yielded direct results in federal policies signed by President Richard Nixon.

“More than anything it was like coming home and I felt that I was where I should be.” —Wilma Mankiller on the occupation of Alcatraz

Following the occupation, Wilma Mankiller continued to volunteer frequently in the Indian community. She and her daughters eventually moved her back to Oklahoma to work for the Cherokee Nation. Much of the film’s dialogue following her return to Indian Country is from her peers. I found this particularly poignant because of the widespread reverence she received from Natives and non-Natives, Democrats and Republicans. This support is unusual for any politician, but especially for a woman more than a generation ago.

After successfully initiating and raising the funds for a clean-water project that reinvigorated unemployed tribal members in Bell, Oklahoma, Mankiller gained recognition. As a result, she was approached to run as deputy chief in Ross Swimmer’s 1983 bid to be principal chief. Despite rampant sexism, including death threats, she won alongside Swimmer.

Groundbreaking as deputy chief
Deputy Chief Mankiller (center) at the groundbreaking for a new development project. Photo courtesy of the Wilma Mankiller Foundation.

After Swimmer stepped down in 1985, Mankiller ran two successful campaigns earning her a decade as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. In her last race, she won 83 percent of the vote. The headlines flash across the screen as a victory that ten years before was scoffed at becomes a reality.

“In a just country, she would have been elected president.” —Gloria Steinem

Wilma Mankiller was the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. President Bill Clinton awarded her the Medal of Freedom in 1998. She revolutionized the largest Indian-run health care system in the country. She doubled annual tribal revenue and tripled tribal enrollment. Under her leadership the Cherokee Nation became what her parents had set out for decades earlier—a modern world.

The voices of her peers depict the life of a woman who surmounted societal pressure to make her life a living example of achievement and dedication to others. The film successfully documents this challenging rise to power by honoring her in remembrance. Mankiller is impactful and soft-spoken, just like its namesake.

 

Mankiller will open the National Museum of the American Indian’s Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe, New Mexico, August 15. Director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl will be in attendance. To watch for other screenings, follow the film on Facebook or Twitter.

Sequoia CarrilloSequoia Carrillo (Navajo/Ute) is an intern in the Office of Public Affairs at the National Museum of the American Indian. In the fall, she will be a junior at the University of Virginia, where she is specializing in History and Media Studies. During the school year, Sequoia works for the American History podcast and public radio program BackStory.

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August 04, 2017

Q’eswachaka, the Last Inka Suspension Bridge

By Allie Plata

Qeswachaka Bridge by Doug McMains
The Q'eswachaka Bridge has been rebuilt continuously since the time of the Inkas. Photo: National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian

The importance of the Q’eswachaka Bridge, which crosses the Apurimac River in Canas Province, Peru, is extensive. To understand the impact this bridge has had on the Inka Road and the communities it connects today, it helps first to understand the history behind the bridge.

As the Great Inka Road, or Qhapaq Ñan in Quechua, was constructed, many logistical problems arose. Spanning nearly 25,000 miles, the Inka Road network runs through many different terrains, including the Andes Mountains. To solve the problem presented by steep canyons and gorges, the Inka  pioneered suspension bridges that would allow soldiers, messengers, and officials to safely cross and further expand their civilization's reign. These suspension bridges, which connected regions that had previously been isolated from one another, were essential to the organization and administration of the state and played a crucial role in the social history of the region. After the fall of the Inka Empire, the bridges survived for centuries and continued to serve as vital links in the Andean road system until the 20th century.

Chroniclers claim that the Inka used suspension bridges to extend their rule into new regions as early as the 13th century, when the Inka Mayta Capac conquered lands west of Cusco, and spanning into the 16th century. The Inka military use of the bridges can be divided into two sections: the control of lands and peoples already within the empire and the subjugation of new peoples. Even before the Spanish arrived in the empire, it was a common practice in warfare to cut bridges down or to burn them. The goals were both offensive—to isolate opposing warriors—and defensive—to stop invaders or prevent thoughts of retreat among one’s own army. Once a bridge was destroyed it took weeks to rebuild it. Bridges contributed to the downfall of the empire as well, by allowing the Spanish to cross into Inka territory, although bridges were also burned to slow the Spanish from reaching Cusco.

Pulling the cables taut
The main cables are stretched across the river before the old bridge is cut down. Men from neighboring communities strain to pull the new cables taut.

Inka bridges have three common design characteristics: braided cables of natural fiber form the floor and handrails, stone abutments anchor the cables on either side of the bridge, and vertical ties run between the main cables and handrails. If you look at modern bridges and compare them to the structure of the Q’eswachaka, the Inka bridge differs in that the main cables used to create the bridges not only support them, but also serve as the walkway.

Weaving the bridge 1
Weaving the bridge 2
One team of master bridge-builders begins weaving from the right bank of the river while the other weaves from the left. 

The location of the Q’eswachaka Bridge—the only remaining suspension bridge of its kind—has remained the same since the reign of the Inka. The 500-year-old tradition of construction is maintained by members of four Quechua communities—Huinchiri, Chaupibanda, Choccayhua, and Ccollana Quehue—who rebuild the bridge each year. People from the communities harvest a local grass and prepare it to be woven into cables. All of the cables begin with small cords formed by twisting together the harvested grass. The small cords are then twisted together to form a larger rope, and these larger ropes are braided to create the main cables used to support the bridge.

The communities work together to pull the ropes and stretch them out. Builders leave the old bridge in place until they have hauled the new cables across the Apurimac Gorge, then cut it down and let it fall into the river. Once the main cables that will support the new  bridge and serve as its floor are taut, and the cables that will serve as handrails as well, master bridge-builders work from each end of the bridge to weave its sides. Sticks added every few feet help keep the bridge from twisting. When the master builders meet at the center of the span, all the remains is to lay matting over the bridge's floor. 

The finished bridge
The builders meet in the center of the bridge. Assistants will lay matting over the cables of the floor. Then, everyone celebrates!

The bridge-builders are so skilled, and their collaboration is so well coordinated, that it takes only three days for them to rebuild the bridge. Afterward the local communities come together for a celebration. The bridge connects the communities literally and figuratively. Rebuilding it is a tradition that has been carried on for hundreds of years and a joyous experience for people to be a part of. The Q’eswachaka Bridge acts as a link between the past and the future, and it serves as a great example of the innovation and engineering abilities of the magnificent Inka Empire.

You can see a replica of a section of the bridge, woven by the communities, in the exhibition The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire—on view at the museum in Washington, D.C., through June 1, 2020. Or visit the exhibition online in English or Spanish.

Allie Plata (Comanche Nation of Oklahoma) is a student at the University of Kentucky (class of 2018) studying Integrated Strategic Communication and a DJ for the campus radio station WRFL.

Photographs, unless otherwise credited are from the video Weaving the Bridge at Q'eswachaka, produced by Noonday Films for the National Museum of the American Indian. 

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June 16, 2017

Makers + Mentors: Hands-on with leaders of Native fashion

Makers + Mentors
Native artists sharing experiences and their thoughts on design and inspiration. From left: Fashion and textile historian Regan Loggans, fashion designer Patricia Michaels, fashion designer Niio Perkins, fashion designer and multimedia artist Loren Aragon, artist and apparel designer Jared Yazzie, fashion model Jade Willoughby, and editorial hair stylist Amy Farid.

As an intern at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York this summer, I had the pleasure of attending last week’s Makers + Mentors event, a series of workshops and conversations with Native designers, artists, and business owners who make their mark on the world of fashion. The day-long program, inspired by the exhibition Native Fashion Now, on view in New York through September 4, centered around providing guidance and support to young—ages 14 through 24—aspiring designers and artists interested in careers in fashion or design.

At the museum’s welcome and introduction of some of the makers and mentors, I spoke with a few of the young people taking part in the event, asking them what they were most excited to do that day and what inspired them as artists. Two high school students, who told me they are inspired the most by the show Project Runway and the street-wear they see on the sidewalks of the Bronx, are both planning to go to medical school. They emphasized, however, that they want to keep designing, either through a minor in fashion or by dedicating free time to art, even as they pursue careers in medicine. One college student who dreams of one day designing costumes for movies like Beauty and the Beast said that she is constantly assessing the historical accuracy of clothing she sees in films, and that historical fashion is one of her biggest inspirations. I even had a chance to speak quickly with one of the mentors, fashion model Jade Willoughby (Ojibwe). Gesturing to the two younger girls sitting with her at the table, she told me that she is inspired by “the passion of other people in this industry—the passion that drives designers’ dreams into reality.”

Courtney Leonard  Makers + Mentors
Courtney M. Leonard speaking during her Place + Identity materials lab.

Next, I attended Place + Identity, a materials lab led by Courtney M. Leonard (Shinnecock). The lab was located in the Coat Room, or “Camel Room,” of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs house, and the room's ornate air (its ceiling is painted with camels) provided a dynamic contrast to Courtney’s down-to-earth approach to success.

Courtney, a multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker, gave us a peek into her creative process, showing us photos of the subway, skyscrapers, and sea creatures—all inspirations to her. I admire her apparent ability to find patterns and structures in nearly anything, and I wish I could be as creatively unafraid as she is with her work. She showed us how she used landscape and location to begin creating a piece of clothing or jewelry, saying that “the landscape that is around us is the culture, the being, and the essence.” She also spoke about her attachment to Long Island’s Shinnecock Nation, and how she used images like the thunderbird from Algonquin mythology to find fresh, unique patterns for her work.

We all then began designing and creating mock-ups of structural jewelry. Courtney encouraged us to start with simple shapes we see around us and find a pattern from there. Here is the set of earrings I created, inspired by the pointed toes of the businesswomen’s shoes I see on the subway every morning, as well as by ballet shoes, and suggesting the shape of a fish. 

Earrings design project
Designing from the shapes around us: A pair of earrings based, in part, on the shoes New York businesswomen wear.

During the lunch break, I spoke with a few girls who are students at a fashion high school in New York. Their style inspirations range from their parents to the clothes of the ‘70s, Ariana Grande, and flower gardens. When asked why she is passionate about design, one student replied that “from a piece of fabric you can create anything—it’s extremely expressive.” Another gave me her perspective on the importance of supporting Native artists, saying that non-Native designers can study Native cultures, but they do not have the same first-hand experience with those cultures that gives Native designers such a unique and powerful artistic perspective, and the authority and knowledge to use aspects of their cultures in a way that does not take advantage of Native communities.

At my next lab, textile designer and performance artist Maria Hupfield (Wasauksing First Nation) taught our group how to sketch and carve out our own rubber stamps, which could be transferred onto fabric to create an ink pattern. I was amazed by the creativity of the people around me—no one in the group had made stamps before, yet most of the students seemed right at home, experimenting with blank space and different materials to stamp on. Maria had a very calm approach to her work and spent most of her time visiting people who seemed to be struggling and reminding them that perfection was not the goal.

I think the lab was so exciting because we were able to create something completely our own that we could transfer onto almost any surface. One girl carved out her name in the rubber and begged her friends to let her stamp it onto their backs. Here’s the moon-shaped stamp I created, and a few patterns I did on leather. I tried to create the effect of a shadow over part of the moon, but I didn’t really achieve this. (Maria very kindly told me it was great.)

Stamps
My stamps, including the moon. Perfection, Maria reminded us, was not the goal.
Patricia Michaels
Patricia Michaels conducting a tour of the exhibition Native Fashion Now.

I was lucky to attend the tour of Native Fashion Now guided by fashion designer Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo). It’s hard to write briefly about the fascinating collection of pieces she spoke about, but I will say that I was amazed that she knew more than half of the featured designers personally. Patricia stressed that the Native design community is a tight one, and that many of the artists are in constant communication, creating a vital web of support and collaboration that drives their success.

To wrap up the day, fashion and textile historian Regan Loggans moderated a conversational panel discussion. Patricia Michaels, Niio Perkins (Haudenosaunee), Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo), Jared Yazzie (Diné [Navajo]), Jade Willoughby (Whitesand First Nation), and editorial hair stylist Amy Farid (Osage) shared their thoughts on Native design, inspiration, and personal responses to struggle. I know it’s a cliché to say that their stories were inspiring, but they truly were. As an English student who sees fashion simply as a side hobby, I found myself considering what impact I might be able to make on the fashion world in the future, and how I could help support the compelling work of Native designers and artists. The panelists especially emphasized that they had to fight to find a place for themselves in an industry that is not kind to newcomers, or outsiders. I wrote down a few of my favorite quotes, and I’ll share them here to wind up this post:

“I think my authentic self is still trying to figure out where I sit in the world.” —Jared Yazzie (Diné [Navajo]), on his personal relationship with the struggle to self-define his work

“Don’t tell me how to be Native. I am Native American. That’s what makes it Native.” —Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo), in response to people who say that her designs are not truly Native

“Everything is at our fingertips. We have no excuses that we shouldn’t be where we want to be.” —Patricia Michaels, on the responsibility and empowerment that modern technology gives to contemporary artists

“There’s a story behind what we present. There’s meaning behind what we have in our work.” —Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo), on the authenticity of Native design

“I have to stand my ground most days, but this is the work I want to do.” —Jared Yazzie, explaining how he deals with constant criticism

“We’re all human beings. At the end of the day, we fit in everywhere.” —Amy Farid (Osage), in response to the question, Where do Native designers belong in the world of fashion?

“No matter how far you go in life, you will always come back to your people. In this life or the next.” —Jade Willoughby (Whitesand First Nation), on the importance of remembering the place you came from

Thanks for reading! I strongly recommend you check out these designers. Exploring their work really gave me a new perspective on the ever-expanding and changing role of Native fashion in the chaos of today.

—Althea Meer

Althea Meer is an intern with the Office of Public Affairs at the museum in New York. In the fall she'll begin her junior year at New York University, where she's studying English, Spanish, and web programming.

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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 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.