Museum Cultures students recently welcomed Hupa and Yurok cultural experts to our class. Melodie George-Moore and Glen Moore from the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Walter Lara from the Yurok Tribe travelled down from Humboldt County to see and to share their perspectives on the Daggett ethnographic collection. These representatives are leaders, teachers, activists, and artisans, as well as long-time members of the extended Stanford Native American community. I invited them here to help build relationships, understand the history and present significance of project items, and consider how we might serve their communities through our research. They offered much more than that to me and my students. Mr. Lara, Ms. George-Moore, and Mr. Moore’s visit illustrated the three central methodologies of the Daggett Project in a clear and immediate way. They directed our time together, but I could not have planned it better myself.
Community perspectives serve a decolonizing methodology by reversing the usual authority/power structures of a museum setting. A simple and powerful lesson came from the requested arrangement of items: women’s items on one table, men’s on another. We, the non-community curators, were not dictating significance, we were hearing about it directly from tribal members. We, in turn, offered them a material archive to learn from and explore. Collaborative reciprocity is vital to practices of the new museum anthropology.
The course’s second methodological theme, “materiality,” was also strongly experienced. As they handled collection items, our guests reiterated the importance not only of seeing, but also of touching, smelling, caring for, and working with things, which we learned have vital energies of their own and influence people. They appreciated the hands-on setting of our classroom and were dissatisfied with the constraints imposed by typical museum exhibitions, with objects behind glass. That mode of engagement prevents the embodied, spontaneous sharing that happens where people gather to examine — not jut see — things. I’m not sure how we can capture this energy in our own exhibition, but we will try. Our methodology of object biography was drawn out by visitors’ insights. They spoke of the intended life of different objects based on their form and physical condition (being broken or cut for deposition in a burial; needing sun, water, or air for proper longevity). In an earlier conversation, Ms. George-Moore and I discussed objects as “ambassadors.”
Although we are not able to present a community-curated exhibit due to time and other constraints, I believe it was vital to include first-person perspectives from community members early in the development process. Students lived our methodologies, the stakes of our exhibit were raised, and our intellectual frameworks fundamentally shifted.
- C. J. Hodge