August 27, 2015

Interning at the Museum: Charlotte Basch, Community and Constituent Services

The blog series Interning at the Museum highlights the projects and accomplishments of the National Museum of the American Indian's interns. Each intern completes a 10-week internship in a department at one of the museum's three facilities—the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland; or George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. The museum’s Internship Program offers sessions in the spring, summer, and fall. The next deadline for applications—for the spring 2016 session—is November 20, 2015. These interviews feature members of this year's recently completed summer session. —Sarah Frost 

During her internship at NMAI, Charlotte Basch helped create resources for tribal museums.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

My name is Charlotte Basch, and I am a master's student in museum anthropology at Columbia University. I am from Seaside, Oregon, and from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the Clatsop–Nehalem Confederated Tribes.

What department did you intern in this summer and what projects were you working on?

I interned in the Community and Constituent Services Department (CCS) under the supervision of Jill Norwood. My main projects have involved researching and writing for the department's Tribal Museum Listserv. The listserv includes over 200 tribal museums, cultural centers, universities, and similar institutions throughout the country and is used to circulate announcements and resources for the tribal museum world. Much of my time was spent contacting and working with tribal museum professionals to compile a list of current exhibition trends in the tribal museum world. The completed report featured over 20 institutions and exhibition trends such as language, basketry, military, and sports. I’ve also had the amazing opportunity to work with the CCS and offices in the Museum Scholarship Department on the early stages of creating professional development programs specifically for tribal museum staff members.

Why did you decide to intern at NMAI?

I decided to intern at the museum not only because of the obvious ties to Indian Country, but because of the way the museum works to build relationships with the Native peoples and communities it represents. In both my personal and professional experience, I’ve witnessed negative interactions between tribal communities and mainstream museums. These experiences motivated me to enter the museum field with a goal to strengthen Native voice in the museum world. After reading about NMAI and hearing wonderful stories about the work it does, I knew I had to find a way to work alongside the dedicated staff who work tirelessly to represent indigenous peoples in ways never done before.

What is your favorite aspect of your internship?

My favorite aspect of my internship has been communicating with tribal communities and people throughout the country. It’s been an honor and a privilege to talk directly with the communities that I write about—an experience that has been absent from the museum world for far too long. In every listserv write-up, I tried to get first-person input from those actively working in tribal museums. This was not always easy, and it usually took a lot of time, but hearing how thankful tribal museum professionals were to be involved made it absolutely worth it.

What have you learned, and what do you hope to achieve because of this internship?

I have learned so much from this internship! I’ve learned that both the museum world and Indian Country are very small. For this reason it was so important to make positive connections during my time at the NMAI. Of course, this hasn’t been hard since all the staff are wonderful passionate people. I hoped to learn how a mainstream institution like the Smithsonian works with underrepresented communities to tell the stories and truths that have so often been silenced. This is a huge task that NMAI is undertaking every day, and I have been able to see the many “arms” that make it work. NMAI is so much more than a tourist attraction, and I think I’ve achieved a better understanding of the massive amount of teamwork it takes to make the museum’s mission a reality.

How has interning helped you understand your own cultural interests?

As a Native person living very far from home, I’ve come to truly appreciate the rich community that is Indian Country. I was admittedly hesitant about working for any institution, including the Smithsonian, as I wasn’t sure how present Native voices would be in daily work. Being at NMAI, though, has shown me that it is possible for a reputable institution to acknowledge, respect, and implement the historical and modern lifeways of the cultures it represents. All of the staff are incredibly passionate about their work and strive to weave the museum’s mission into everything they do. It has made me truly proud to be a Native person in the museum field and hopeful for the work to come.

Do you have advice for aspiring interns?

Always look for ways to make connections! The NMAI interns are so lucky to have the opportunity to meet with various staff, including the director and other senior staff. Remember that you are here to work, but you are also here as an up-and-coming professional and will most likely be working with these people in the future. Their insight will strengthen your understanding of their scholarship and projects, as well as help you get a better handle on your future role in the museum world.

Interviewer Sarah Frost spent her summer internship at the museum as a member of the Web staff, helping to launch the Inka Road website and other new projects online and in social media. She will continue to work on the museum's digital projects this fall.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Basch, used with permission.

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July 31, 2015

Museum Interns Take New York: A Photo Journal

On July 10, 12 NMAI interns and fellows visited the National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. We arrived at the museum as thousands of fans poured into lower Manhattan to shower us with cheers and admiration, or was that for the U.S. women’s soccer team?

As the crowds dispersed we headed into the museum, but not before taking a picture with a U.S. marshal (below).

Interns & US marshal

We were greeted by Duane Blue Spruce , public spaces planning coordinator (below, wearing a red shirt). After a round of introductions, he told us about his involvement with the Heye Center. His experience began when the museum was the Museum of the American Indian at West 155th and Broadway, before it became part of the Smithsonian and moved downtown. Duane showed us two books he created to illustrate the experiences of Native peoples in the New York City area—Mother Earth, Father Skyline: The Native American Experience in New York City and Concrete Tipi. “It’s fun to come and work here every day,” he said, “because the things we produce represent Native people and educate the public. We’re doing good stuff.”

John Haworth and GGHC staff speaking with interns

We were joined by John Haworth, NMAI assistant director for Museum Programs (above, far right), who told us about the imagiNATIONS project being developed in New York. This new hands-on learning space will be geared towards pre-teens and will demonstrate the ingenuity of Native peoples, including their contributions in food, medicine, and architecture. Connor Bliss, an intern in the Exhibits Department, explained that “being able to witness the progress that is being made on . . . the imagiNATIONS Activity Center has further increased the understanding of the exhibitions process I’ve learned here during my time at the Smithsonian.” 

Peter BrillLater, Peter Brill, deputy assistant director of the museum in New York (right), walked us through the exhibit design process. His enthusiasm for the museum was infectious, and he encouraged us to speak up and present our ideas: “In these projects, you have a voice, and it’s important to think and be responsive to each other, bring your ideas forward, and try not to be fearful of making a silly suggestion.”

Charlotte Basch, an intern in Community and Constituent Services, told me she was impressed by how encouraging the New York staff is: “It was a great opportunity to see that each individual plays an important role in the NMAI and Smithsonian network. . . . Peter and Duane and everyone else were obviously excited about the work they do for both tribal communities and their fellow New Yorkers.”

Carrie Gonzalez 1 Carrie Gonzalez 2
Carrie Gonzalez 3

Carrie Gonzalez, a cultural interpreter on the Heye Center staff, then guided us on a wonderful tour of the museum (above and right). She also led us through three major exhibitions: Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family, Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American, and Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed, as well as Circle of Dance.  

Carrie told us that she leads school groups on tours during the school year, sometimes with over 50 kids! I think we were slightly easier to manage.  

We also got the chance to explore the museum’s activity center (below). Some interns tried their hand at a Yup'ik yo-yo a game that requires the player to take two sealskin balls attached by a caribou-sinew string and swing them around in opposite directions. I ventured into a tipi with Sara Morales, a Collections intern, and spent some time looking at the artwork on the interior. 

Yoyo 1 Yoyo 2 Tipi interior

After the tour was over, the interns scattered across the city—some uptown to see friends, some to Brooklyn. We all left the Heye Center with an appreciation for how the museum is changing understandings of Native lives in New York City.


—Sarah Frost

Sarah Frost spent her summer internship at the museum in Washington, D.C., as a member of the Web staff, working on the Inka Road website and new projects online and in social media. 

Photos: Tipi interior courtesy of Conservation intern Rachel Mochon. View of Manhattan courtesy of Applications intern Abby Malkin. All other photos courtesy of Sarah Frost.

The National Museum of the American Indian's Internship Program offers sessions in the spring, summer, and fall. The next deadline for applications—for the spring 2016 session—is November 20, 2015.

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March 31, 2015

Three Women, Three Artists, Three Paths toward One Goal: To Keep Their Culture Alive

To celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, March 8, the National Museum of the American Indian hosted the public program Native Women Artists: Creativity & Continuity. Visitors had the opportunity to meet three unique Native women artists and hear their stories.Delores Elizabeth Churchill (Haida), Pat Courtney Gold (Warm Springs Wasco), and Ronni-Leigh Goeman (Onondaga) discussed their explorations and journeys as indigenous artists, while also demonstrating their artistry. The more everyone talked, the more I realized how much I have to learn about Native culture. From Alaska to New York, weaving is not just a talent, but it is also a way of passing culture and history to generations to come. 

Pat Courtney Gold 2015

Born and raised on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, Pat Courtney Gold (right) does traditional Wasco weaving. She has traveled nationwide to learn Wasco basketry and to be able to pass along the culture. Pat explained a thought-provoking story behind the three colors she has placed on the bottom of her baskets since 2011. “The red, white, and blue base honors the young men and women in the presidents’ war,” said Ms. Gold, referring to Iraq and Afghanistan. She has been doing weaving this into her work since 9/11. “Fourteen years later, and I am still doing it. I thought it would last only a couple years but it didn’t,” she told me, while remembering the young adults she knows and who left her hometown to fight. 

Ronni-Leigh Goeman (below) can take months to go from the idea and concept to making one of her amazing baskets. Growing up on the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) in upstate New York, she began making baskets at a young age, captivated by the art of weaving. Each of her baskets has a special meaning, inspired by nature, her culture, and the traditions of her people. Her baskets are made of black ash trees and a mix of moose hair, porcupine quills, and sweet grass. 

 Ronni-Leigh Goeman 2015

“I would never kill a moose to get their hair! People know I work with it, so when they hunt they just throw them in my backyard,” Ms. Goeman assured me.

Her husband, StoneHorse Goeman (Seneca), is the artist behind the little sculptures on the top of each basket. He has created artworks in partnership with her for almost twenty years.  

Delores Churchill 2015Delores Elizabeth Churchill (right) is one of those people you can be around without anyone saying a word and feel good. Who needs words if you have this amazing talent! Ms. Churchill's passion for her basketry is vibrant in her eyes. I could sit and watch her weaving for hours. That is what I did (for a couple hours, anyway). In a few words, she explained the story behind the hat in the picture, recovered from a retreating glacier in northern Canada. The “spruce root hat was found with Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi, also known as the Long Ago Person Found.” Delores Churchill is the subject of the documentary Tracing Roots, which portrays her search to understand the history and cultural context of the hat.  

I was stunned to see small children in some way interested in the artists' art and the meaning of it. It must be the passion they have that intensifies and attract young kids. If only one of those kids went home and started weaving something, anything, I am sure these artists would be happy to see that their goal was reached. 

—Claudia Lima, NMAI

Claudia Lima is an intern in the museum’s Office of Public Affairs.

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March 10, 2014

Curatorial Residency at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, or New York, NY—applications due April 15, 2014

Curatorial Residency 3Miles R. Miller (Yakama/Nez Perce), 2013 Curatorial Resident at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, giving a public lecture on contemporary art. Photo by K. Ash-Milby (Navajo), NMAI. Used with permission. 

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) seeks applications for an 18-month paid residency for entry-level Native American museum professionals interested in pursuing museum careers or those early in established careers who feel they would benefit from a residency at NMAI. Applications are due by April 15, 2014. The successful candidate will be expected to begin in June 2014.
A successful candidate will demonstrate commitment to the museum profession through academic preparation, experience with paid or volunteer work at museums or community cultural centers, experience with exhibitions and/or collections research, and/or a track record of community-based scholarship. The curatorial resident will join the staff of the NMAI Museum Scholarship Group and will be assigned to exhibition development and/or collections research projects under the supervision of staff of the Museum Scholarship Group. The resident will enjoy all the privileges and responsibilities of the museum's professional staff, and work assignments will be created to assist with the development of professional skills necessary to the curatorial profession.
Applications should include:
1) complete curriculum vitae or professional resume;
2) a letter of support from an academic or community-based sponsor or mentor; 
3) an essay of no more than 1,200 words describing:
a) the candidate’s career goals for museum work;
b) what the candidate hopes to gain from the residency experience; and
c) why the National Museum of the American Indian in particular can play an important role in the candidate’s career development.
Consideration will be given to candidates who can demonstrate how their experience will benefit their communities.
Compensation for the residency will be competitive with entry-level museum appointments in the Washington, D.C., and New York City areas, accompanied by a benefits package including health insurance. The residency includes travel funds for professional development and participation in professional conferences, to be determined in consultation with supervision. Candidates must be American citizens or eligible to work legally in the United States.
Send applications to:

Patricia Scott, NMAI Cultural Resources Center, 4220 Silver Hill Road, Suitland, MD 20746-2863

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Do I have to be Native American to apply for this residency?

Good info you have shared. I'm happy to learned new things here about Curatorial Residency

News good and i like it.

July 08, 2013

Native Youth Address Polices that Affect Their Lives

By Patrick Watson  

SPA 080 cropped

Mentor Rebecca Rae introduces Latrell Davis, Tenika Davis, Gabrielle Lucero, Kiley Taptto. The students presented their group research on housing assistance and recommended that the use of traditional building materials, community involvement in planning, and housing assistance for everyone who needs it be incorporated into housing programs.

On Monday, June 24, the National Museum of the American Indian welcomed a group of students from the Summer Policy Academy II, a program of the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute. SPA II gives students the opportunity to travel to Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs to research and write policy papers on issues that affect their Native communities. Students are admitted into the program based on nomination by leaders in their communities. At the end of the program, the students travel to Washington, D.C., to present their research and recommendations to their congressional delegates. This year, they made a stop at NMAI to share their work with some of the museum’s staff.

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Trishana Garcia gives an opening prayer.

The students began with brief, individual presentations in which they explained their core values and what is special to them about their communities. The students chose forms ranging from short essays to poems to pieces of visual art. The common themes in these reflections demonstrated the students’ love for their culture, traditions, families, and homes. With the tone set, four groups of students presented their findings on the four areas of focus selected for this year’s program: health issues, the urbanization of Native communities, the protection of sacred sites, and education for Native students.

The students in the group on health issues were Latrell Davis (Zuni Pueblo), Tenika Toya (Jemez/ San Felipe Pueblo), Gabrielle Lucero (Isleta Pueblo), and Kiley Taptto (San Felipe/ Santa Ana Pueblo), assisted by mentor Rebecca Rae (Jicarilla Apache). The group began by highlighting some of the historic factors that have contributed to the decline in health among their communities, such as the loss of practices through which Pueblo people provided their own sustenance and the introduction of, and resulting dependency upon, nutritionally inferior government rations. The group also addressed government sequestration, explaining that even slight cuts in the Indian Health Service’s funding would significantly set back the health of the Pueblo people. Specifically, they requested that the proposed 5 percent cut in IHS spending be reduced to no more than 1 percent. The group made it clear that the programs dedicated to improving well-being in their communities are vital to the mental, physical, and spiritual health of the Pueblo people. 

Students Jacob Shije (Santa Clara Pueblo), Honey Garcia (Santa Ana Pueblo), Trishana Garcia (Santo Domingo Pueblo), Desiree Quintana (Santo Domingo Pueblo), and staff mentor Christie Abeyta (Santa Clara/Santo Domingo Pueblo) addressed the urbanization of Native communities. Drawing from their own, varied experiences, the group pointed out that the environment of traditional pueblos is conducive to the sense of community that is so vital to Pueblo culture, while government funded, subdivision-style housing creates isolation within the community and is detrimental to Pueblo traditions and core values.

Jacob said exactly how they want to address the issue: “We’re asking for the consideration of changes that would include flexibility for the use of traditional materials and involvement in planning to minimize impacts on cultural and social aspects of Pueblo life.” The group cited the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 as an example of a program that would help the housing situation in their communities. They touched on some issues that are applicable beyond the context of Native communities as well, such as the need for housing assistance for all families with inadequate housing, rather than just those that fall within a certain, low-income bracket, and the need for varied designs and sizes to accommodate families with different sizes and circumstances. Community-oriented housing is important so that the Pueblo people may continue, as Jacob put it, to “maintain [their] living history.”

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Pretty Water Duran, Kaitlyn Coyazo, Teran Villa present their research on the protection of land, natural resources, and sacred sites. Their group recommended revisions to existing laws to further protect sacred sites.

The issues surrounding sacred sites and their protection in the face of industrialization and development were tackled by students Teran Villa (Jemez Pueblo), Pretty Water Duran (Pojoaque Pueblo), and Kaitlyn Coyazo (San Felipe Pueblo), along with mentor Veronique Richardson (Laguna Pueblo). The group explained that sacred sites remain important to the Pueblo people’s way of life. As Kaitlyn said in introducing the issue, “Our ancestors fought to protect their religion and sacred sites. We are here to carry on their legacy.” One of the biggest issues in protecting sacred sites is that the sites themselves can range from a particular point to a collection of sites to an entire landscape.

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Teran Villa speaks on some of the things he loves about his community and some that he hopes to change to keep his community strong.
Teran appealed to the importance of the National Historic Preservation Act as a framework that could be applied to “protect the places where our medicine men go to receive natural remedies and provide guidance to our ways of life.” He added that Provision 106 of the act “provides notification and consultation upon potential harm of our sacred sites, but it does not prevent the harm to our sacred sites.” Pretty Water referenced the Supreme Court decision in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, in which “the United States Supreme Court did not agree with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.” Pretty Water also added some personal context: “A sacred site to me is a kiva. A kiva is just like a cathedral, a place where we, as Natives, go and pray and do our ceremonies. Without a kiva, we would lose our language, culture, tradition, and our core values. Even if part of the kiva was destroyed, that is enough to destroy our religious practices.” Teran summed up the group’s recommendations on how to deal with the issue: “It is vital for us Native Americans that the government revisits and amends the American Indian Religious Freedom Act by incorporating the Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act that will enforce restrictions and consequences upon harm of our sacred sites.” 

Focusing on educational issues were Autumn Billie (Navajo/Taos and Acoma Pueblo), LaVonna Gachupin (Zia Pueblo), and Eric Jenkins (San Felipe and Santo Domingo Pueblo), along with mentor Preston Sanchez (Navajo and Jemez Pueblo). The group broke the educational issues facing Native students into three categories: access to higher education, transitioning into higher education, and lack of Native history, culture, and language in education. On the subject of transitioning into higher education, Eric stressed the significance of programs like SPA that offer students the opportunity to do serious work on culturally important issues. He said, “SPA gives us the privilege to use our cultural core values to learn about policy.”

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Autumn Billie, assisted by LaVonna Gapuchin, speaks on her transition into womanhood and reads a poem about her family.
On the lack of Native historical and cultural focus, Autumn said, “It’s good to look upon these past 100 years and to think about how we can gain knowledge from history to build stronger communities for future generations.” Addressing the educational barriers that have developed, the group mentioned existing efforts to improve education for Native students, such as the Building upon Unique Indian Learning and Development Act and the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act. Additionally, they proposed their own measure, Building Capacity and Retention to Increase Native American Faculty, which would involve mentorship programs in universities to promote faculty and teaching careers for Native students.

LaVonna shared a personal anecdote about a teacher who suspected she was lying when she needed time to attend to some tribal responsibilities. She said, “[The teacher] came to my house, and she wanted to see if I was actually fulfilling my tribal obligations, and she was shocked that I wasn’t lying.” Having just completed her first year at the University of New Mexico, Autumn said of her experience, “I did not have a single Native American professor,” and that is an apt example of what the group sees as one of the biggest issues with education for Native students.

These students have put in time researching and thinking about the issues that affect their Native communities, but their involvement is much deeper than that. These students do so much more than think about these issues, because they are living them. These are not theoretical matters. They are the realities that American Indians face every day, and it is inspiring to see the commitment to a better reality that drives these students. 

All photos by Maria E. Renteria, NMAI

Patrick Watson is a member of the Chickasaw Nation and an intern with the National Museum of the American Indian’s Office of Public Affairs. He is pursuing a BA in Plan II Honors and English from the University of Texas at Austin and expects to graduate May 2015.

Maria Esmeralda Renteria is an intern with the National Museum of the American Indian’s Office of Public Affairs. She is pursuing an MA in Museum Studies from the San Francisco State University and received her BA in both Latin American Studies and Spanish at UCLA.

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This seems like a wonderful opportunity for those students. I think more people should take pride and ownership of what happens in their communities and the changes they can affect.

I think more people should take pride and ownership of what happens in their communities and the changes they can affect.

I am really inspired by the way of assignments given to students , Its not usual theoretical and conventional assignment where students can copy , and you find 90% of assignments have same answer. Its much more related to their lives , that's why students involvement was much higher.

Meenakshi Garg

Lucky students who avail this opportunity. Thanks for sharing the information.