Seventy AKCHO members and friends of AKCHO gathered at the Museum of Flight on January 30 for AKCHO’s annual meeting and were treated to a panel of distinguished guests who gave a preview of the kind of conversations to expect when “Beyond the Frame – To Be Native” officially launches on February 16. (Ed. note: visit the AKCHO calendar for launch details.)
Panelists (pictured above) included Miranda Belarde-Lewis (University of Washington Information School), Lydia Sigo (Suquamish Museum curator), Shannon Kopelva (Beyond the Frame – To Be Native coordinator) and moderator Jodee Fenton (Seattle Public Library).
Fenton noted that the conversation around how to mark the sesquicentennial of photographer Edward S. Curtis’s birth had deepened substantially since the initial plans were proposed. There has been general acknowledgement that while Curtis’s photography is beautiful, it was often staged – an attempt to recreate the “glory” years. Believing that Native American culture was doomed, Curtis tried to capture as much of it as he could in his 20-volume work of narrative text and photography titled The North American Indian. The project consumed nearly 30 years.
Sigo, who is following in her father’s footsteps as a curator at the Suquamish Museum, noted that there is a misperception that Curtis saved Native American culture. “That’s not true. Our ancestors were saving our culture, even when that was illegal,” she said. However, she recommended looking beyond the photographs, saying that the narrative portion of Curtis’s work, and some of the early recordings he made to capture traditional songs, had more authenticity and value.
Belarde-Lewis told the audience that the heritage community has a pivotal role to play in helping to dismantle a historical trajectory that has favored a privileged standpoint. She argued for “de-centering” on Curtis. “We are putting him on a year-long pedestal.”
Instead, she urged audience members to “challenge yourselves and your visitors and what it is you are trying to get across here.”
The panelists praised the adoption of the new Since Time Immemorial K-12 curriculum in Washington State, which will not only provide education in Native American history and culture for all, but also mandate teacher training in the curriculum.
During the business portion of the annual meeting, Alice Stenstrom was elected to a second term on the board and Judie Romeo was officially elected to the board for the first time, although she has served on the board since last spring, after founding AKCHO member Dick Wagner passed away. Jennifer Meisner, Preservation Officer of the King County Historic Preservation Program gave a presentation, and there were also remarks from 4Culture heritage lead Brian Carter and 4Culture executive director Jim Kelly, who will be retiring this spring.