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November 23, 2010

StoryCorps Interview with NMAI's Terry Snowball (Prairie Band Potawatomi/ Wisconsin Ho-Chunk)

This week the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian will share the stories of five Native staffers as part of American Indian Heritage Day and the StoryCorps' 2010 National Day of Listening, a holiday started by the nonprofit organization StoryCorps in 2008. Both holidays fall on the same day this year—Friday, Nov. 26.

Terry Snowball _ Chile repatriation in 2007 (with members of the Aymara communities on either side of Snowball) Yesterday's interview with KJ Jacks (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) is followed by today's conversation with Terry Snowball (Prairie Band Potawatomi/ Wisconsin Ho-Chunk), who got his start in the field of Native American studies as an intern at the Institute of American Indian Arts. (Pictured: Snowball, center, with members of Chile's Aymara communities during a repatriation trip in 2007).

As repatriation coordinator at the museum's Cultural Resources Center, Snowball works with tribes from North and South America to return human remains and sacred objects from the museum's collection. He's been with the museum since 1996.

In addition to working for the Smithsonian, Snowball is a traditional practitioner of his tribes' dream dance religion.

On witnessing the museum's 2004 opening, which brought more than 25,000 indigenous people to the National Mall—the largest gathering of tribal communities in U.S. history:

Terry Snowball-Opening Ceremony (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "It's not just my defining moment and it's not just my tribe's defining moment, I also think it's a defining moment for indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere ... Never before had we witnessed so many nations, so many leaders, so much cultural celebration or personal expression or cultural identity ... Today it's something I still reflect on, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around ... What we are talking about here is cultural survival, so each and every one of those groups and individuals that was there has been a product of a form of survival that was due in part by how our ancestors persevered."

On how the museum should portray Native American history:

Terry Snowball-Identity (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "Some tribal people that come to this museum feel that it should be about holocaust, it should be about that type of experience, whereas other tribes feel that it should be about our survival. But I guess the question is why can't it be about all those things?"

On his mentor at the Institute of American Indian Arts:

Terry Snowball-Mentor (Click to Play)

 EXCERPT:  "There was actually a moment when he was teaching one of our museum-studies classes and he said to a couple of us, "You know, someday you'll be helping each other." And lo and behold, when I was working here at the Cultural Center in Suitland, I was host to one of my former fellow classmates, as he was a tribal representative for the Seminal Tribe of Oklahoma."

On artistic expression versus cultural identity: 

Terry Snowball-Native Identity and Art (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "You didn't have gallery openings on the plains. You didn't have gallery openings at a potlatch. You had what you wore as your culture. You had what you wore as your past. You had what you wore as your identity, and that was very artful …"

On the power of tradition and religion to maintain cultural identity:

Terry Snowball-Cultural Values (Click to Play)

 EXCERPT:  "I've always grown up with an important aspect to my culture, which is our religion. And for as long as I can remember, we've practiced that religion ... I was initiated into that practice when I was 14 or 15, and have witnessed a number of passings and loss of certain traditional knowledge ... but it nevertheless keeps going, because it constantly promotes the one thing that helps us maintain an identity for ourselves."


The National Day of Listening is an effort to encourage all Americans to honor a friend, loved one, or member of their community by interviewing them about their lives. StoryCorps has created a free do-it-yourself interview guide with equipment recommendations and interview instructions available online at www.nationaldayoflistening.org.


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