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November 25, 2010

StoryCorps Interview with NMAI's Jacquetta Swift (Comanche/Fort Sill Apache)

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.

Swift for Web Today’s interview features Jacquetta Swift (Comanche/Fort Sill Apache), the museum’s repatriation manager. She works with Terry Snowball at the museum’s Cultural Resources Center to return human remains and sacred objects to communities across the Western hemisphere, from Alaska and Arizona to Chile and Peru.

It was through NMAI’s New York branch, the George Gustav Heye Center (GGHC) in Manhattan, that Swift first became involved with the museum.   After staff at the GGHC learned about a powwow Swift had organized in 1993, they asked her to coordinate the inaugural celebration of the museum’s induction into the Smithsonian Institution the following year. “It’s a great experience to be here and to work in this field and to work with Native people and work for Native people,” Swift said during her conversation with Keevin Lewis (Navajo), the museum’s community services coordinator. “It’s been a real honor.”

On organizing a powwow in New York to combat homesickness:

Jackie Swift-Powwow (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: “I had recently gotten married, and I had moved to New York City. I had worked so long to get away from Oklahoma that once I got away … I was like, Wow, I’m really homesick. And I thought, how can I create that sense of home and have more Native folks around me … And I actually thought, You know it’d be great to bring the Apache Fire Dancers here.”  

On shifts in the museum’s approach to repatriation:

Jackie Swift-Shift in Repatriation (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: “At the museum’s inception it was known that human remains and funerary objects were the biggest priority for return … As the years have gone by, what we saw was that tribes were coming forward and saying we appreciate that you want to return human remains, but they’ll say, 'We’re not ready to have them returned,' or 'That’s not our priority. We would like these sacred objects, or these cultural patrimony objects returned to the community because we have elders that are dying, we have this need in the community to perpetuate our ceremonies and our culture and our way of life, and we can’t until we have these things returned.'”

On the concept of repatriation law:

Jackie Swift-Repatriation Lessons (Click to Play)

 EXCERPT: “It’s interesting that we have to have … a law that tells U.S. citizens that it’s not OK for you to have our ancestors in your museums … It’s not OK that you, or whoever, dug these up in the first place and took the funerary objects that were with them and sometimes, in some cases, disassociated them … So this is an effort to try and correct that wrong that has been done. And I think anybody, regardless of Native or non-Native, can appreciate the fact that no one would ever want to have their grandmother or their family members dug up so they could have the trinkets or just examine their bones.”

On participating in the D.C. museum's 2004 opening procession:

Jackie Swift-Epiphany (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "I was taking these Cheyenne/Arapaho kids up the Mall, these little high school kids ... and I saw walking toward me these guys from the Amazon rainforest, you know they had barely any clothes on and paint decorating their bodies and no shoes and it was just one of those sort of surreal moments when you were like, “Look at this. Look at this juxtaposition.” And they’re kind of looking around at the diversity of people that were there, and I firmly believe that at no time in our history, no time in our future, will we have that many indigenous peoples and their tribal leaders at one place at one time. So that was kind of an epiphany moment for me."

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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