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Story 08: Working Together To Get It Right

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A Radical Difference

Written by Joan Lester

Webster's dictionary defines change as "to make radically different." In 1973, Boston Children's Museum (BCM), then known as The Children's Museum, embarked on a journey that would lead the museum's staff—and eventually many other people—to radically change who we were and how we interacted with and interpreted the lives and cultural patrimony of Native American peoples. Our learning spiraled outward in ever widening circles.

It began with a few patient Native people who were willing to try to educate a pesky graduate student (myself). It spread to Mike Spock who listened to my accounting of all the mistakes we were making, and the appropriation we were engaged in and said, simply, "Fix it." It further rippled out to the Native educators in the Wampanoag and Narragansett communities who were willing to trust us enough to become members of the museum's Advisory Board and to work with us on a major revision of a curriculum unit. It then seeped to the Native interns who, while we were educating them, ended up educating us and then became either staff or colleagues and later to still more Native people from New England and beyond who joined in our efforts to deconstruct, rethink, and reconstruct all our programs and exhibitions. It ultimately saturated the next generation—the sons and daughters of the people who first trusted that we could change—who continue to work with the museum today.

It is important to note that although we began this endeavor earlier than most other mainstream museums, our involvement now parallels the work of other museum professionals who have made—and continue to make—the same dedicated effort to work sensitively and collaboratively with Native Americans.

So where and when did The Children's Museum begin its journey, and how did we move towards this radical change?

Next: Early Years at the Children's Museum: Continuing the Salvage Paradigm