"Museums can be very painful sites for Native peoples," writes Amy Lonetree
, associate professor of history at UC-Santa Cruz and a citizen of the Ho Chunk Nation, "as they are intimately tied to the colonization process."
Such a contention appears incongruous to most; museums are supposed to be places of wonder and learning, after all, pillars of our democratic culture. But consider the history. From the wholesale plunder of cultural artifacts and human remains -- "If you desecrate a white grave, you wind up in prison," Walter Eco-Hawk puts it, "but desecrate an Indian grave, and you get a Ph.D." -- to racist representations of disappearance and primitivity, museums are deeply implicated in colonialism.
Yet as Lonetree powerfully proposes in Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums
(University of North Carolina Press, 2012), it doesn't need to be that way. Assessing new efforts of collaboration, accountability, and control at Mille Lacs Indian Museum
, The National Museum of the American Indian
, and The Ziibiwing Center of Anishinaabe Culture & Lifeways
, Lonetree lays out a path toward decolonization, putting these once aloof institutions to the task of sovereignty, survivance, and the telling of hard truths. This work is not only politically vital, but ultimately makes for a better museum.