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Rethinking Curriculum: Indians Who Met the Pilgrims

Written by Joan Lester

Together with our Native American Advisors we settled down to create a fully revised multimedia kit that would respectfully represent the Wampanoag people. A year later, we published The Indians Who Met the Pilgrims, a breakthough curriculum that connected the Native past to the Native present, dealt honestly with the full history of Pilgrim-Wampanoag relations, and considered contemporary issues such as land claims and sovereignty. Native narrators presented oral history, told personal stories (on tape and in text), and shared their contemporary photographs of family, community, and their homeland.

In comparing the first curriculum unit, The Algonquins, to this community-centered kit, I am reminded of James Clifford's 1991 essay, "Four Northwest Coast Museums," which contrasts the grand, generalized narratives that often characterize dominant museum exhibits with the de-centered local expressions of identity and existence that are found in tribal museums. In the 1964 MATCh Kit, The Algonquins, cultural outsiders pieced together a general, largely anonymous narrative from a wide variety of anthropological sources. In The Indians Who Met the Pilgrims, individual Wampanoags presented their local culture, and shared their feelings about their lives, intercultural relations, and contemporary politics. In comparing my involvement in the first curriculum unit, The Algonguins, with The Indians Who Met the Pilgrims, I am struck, also, by the change in voice. In The Algonquins, non-Natives synthesized and presented information; in Indians Who, Native advisors collaborated with non-Native staff and their own words were integrated into the final presentation.

Next: Increasing Native Representation in Museum Programs and Exhibits