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Thursday, February 04, 2010

a question of intent

Similar to a much earlier post I am using this blog to make a statement so that people can come here and read all about it. That way I do not have the same conversation a thousand times.

Recently the museum sold some native american artifacts for a significant sum of money. You can read about it here.


Of course I have been lambasted based upon the percieved ethical obligations to native americans that many have. In short I am a dastardly, devious, greedy SOB who refuses to acknowledge the plight of the American Indian.

In reply-
I am sorry that American history holds the tale of the American Indian the way it does. It is truly a dark stain upon our past.
However I will not personally take any responsibility for it as:
1. On my fathers side were swiss settlers in Indiana around 1900. There were no indians left there for them to oppress when they arrived.
2. On my mothers side there are no famous indian war heroes/villans, just some mid west and west coast farmers and a few Washington utopiasts-I doubt they ever oppressed or cheated the Natives Americans.
3. So please just because I do not carry this burden of guilt does not mean I am a bad person. I have enough of my own guilt to deal with.
BTW-no one in my family owned slaves either. Although I find derogatory jokes sort of funny. I am partly sorry about that.

From an Ethical standpoint-
1. The items sold were trade items. They were intended to be sold to stupid white guys. No one at the time of the transaction knew the object would reach the monetary or cultural values it did. I bet that each guy probably walked away from the deal saying "suuuucccckeeer".
2. None of the items were grave or shamanistic goods. Period. We made sure of that in 1995 and again in 2009. But this concept does bring up a question about todays native artwork. In many Native art galleries you see sold objects that 100 plus years ago would have been ceremonial, shamanistic items. Things that were significant not just to the family, but to the tribe. These are objects that today would be buried with the owner or user as part of the religious and cultural significance. What will become of these items in 100 years? Will they be protected pieces requiring repatriation by law? Or because they were made as trade goods, even though they are culturally representative, would they be pieces that were immune to repatriation?
3. Returning culture to a people whose culture was taken away is simply a little insulting-at least for me. It says to me we beat the native americans. Beat them literally to death as a people. That now they are rebuilding a lost culture. I look at it as they are not rebuilding a lost culture but adapting a thriving culture to their current needs and circumstances. Something we do everyday. There was a point in time when their culture changed drastically, unfortunately not through their own doing. That change did not kill them though, it caused them to find their core and their center and move on to something more successful. To say that their traditions died I find disingenious. I also find it simply insensitive to say that all tribes are the same and thus find this contempt of guilt applies to all of them. One of the worst forms of discrimination is guilt. When you have to say to anyone I need to treat you differently because of anything other than a direct immediate need you are discriminating.

The guilt-
1. Finally the crux of the matter. If you think this was the wrong thing for the museum to do, chances are you feel guilty about your perception of Native Americans. Please ask yourself why. If you answer is "because as an American I am responsible for what was done to them." you are way off base. (authors opinion-but a very considered one.) I can't imagine that a korean, cuban, or yugoslavian who has just taken an oath of citizenship feels this way-but are they any less American than you. Hey they chose to be an American most of us didn't so they count.
2. Be guilty for what is currently being done to Native Americans. Find the actual discrimination now going on. Fix that. Don't tell a Native American that they should be proud because you feel guilty. Tell them they should be proud of their accomplishments, especially their accomplishments as a person who exists as a moral example, not as a representative of a country or culture.
3. So get over it. The past is the past. It is a lesson for us so that we do not repeat, it has very little to do with repent.

1. My job is to fulfill the mission as set forth by the community which the museum serves. That mission says nothing about Canadian Indians. We kept the pieces that fulfill our view of the local County tribes importance in the history of this area. We got rid of what did not meet our mission. We did it with the priority of making the museum mission better if possible. If these objects were of little or no value we would have either given them to someone who could use them or barring that thrown them away as they were taking up space better used by something that was relevant.
2. Please also understand that this is not a professional standard as set out throught the AAM. We will never receive accreditation because of this. The AAM standpoint is that public collections need to remain public. I simply disagree with them on this. It is short sighted not to recognize private collectors as valid methods of preserving history and culture. In fact-heres a dirty little secret; Most private collectors have better storage and display facilities than most museums. But then the AAM is all about professional control and stuffy old shirts telling the rest of their peers what to think so they can justify the money they spent getting some letters behing their names. (oops let slip some of my bias')

So in conclusion. Be fair now. Be equitable now. Dont make your kids guilty for your mistakes and don't hold the children guilty for the sins of the parents.

And of course support the Lynden Pioneer Museum. This money doesn't make us rich it helps us meet budget. If we remove the other parts of the budget then we are back at square one.

1 comment:

Comments are great. They are like the Grande, 2-pump, Cinnamon-dolche, non-fat latte of the computer...Really! Thanks for the bloggin' coffee!