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3 questions with Tara Backhouse on museum’s achievement

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s reaccreditation was announced in November 2023. (Courtesy photo)

The Seminole Tribe’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress Reservation was one of 41 museums to be reaccredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) in 2023. The AAM made the announcement in a Nov. 28, 2023, news release. Fewer than 5% of the country’s estimated 33,000 museums are accredited.

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum was the first tribally owned museum to be accredited by the AAM in 2009, and it is now the first to be reaccredited. The reaccreditation is good for 10 years.

“It is a massive accomplishment as it represents a continuity of excellence over a long period, which is always very hard to achieve,” Paul Backhouse, the senior director of the tribe’s Heritage and Environment Resources Office, which oversees the museum, said.

According to the AAM, reaccreditation is achieved though a rigorous and detailed process of self-assessment, and a review and site visit by a team of peers.

The Tribune asked the museum’s curator, Tara Backhouse (Paul Backhouse’s wife), to elaborate on the achievement with three questions. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Tribune: Why is reaccreditation important?

Backhouse: When a museum is accredited, it promises a high professional level of service to its community. Without striving to achieve this honor, a museum’s historic collection could suffer damage, our exhibits might not be accurate and informative, our building may not be safe for staff and visitors, and our customer service might not be very good. Those are some of the areas that have to be excellent in order to achieve accreditation. The museum preserves a historic collection of over 200,000 objects, our exhibits are community inspired, and our campus is beautifully maintained.  

Tribune: Many pieces need to fall into place?

Backhouse: There are a number of core documents required, policies and procedures such as an emergency plan, a code of ethics, a collections management policy, a strategic plan and an interpretive plan. We also submitted a self-study in which we answered many questions about the museum’s mission, programs and community engagement. The museum management team (executive director, director, collections manager, registrar, head of exhibitions, education coordinator, visitor services manager, retail manager and facilities manager) worked on this self-study and revised the core documents for approximately 12 months prior to a March 2023 submission. 

Tribune: Anything else you want to share with the tribal community?

Backhouse: The accreditation and reaccreditation journey goes back many years. Tina Osceola did an amazing job when she spearheaded the original accreditation effort in the early 2000s. The museum became the first tribally owned museum to be accredited by the AAM. We are one of only two tribally owned museums that are accredited. The other is in Alaska. It is thanks to the leadership of our director, Gordon Oliver Wareham, that we have maintained these high standards and have achieved a second honor – the first tribally owned museum to be reaccredited by the AAM.

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The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum was the first tribally owned museum to be accredited by the AAM in 2009. Its reaccreditation in 2023 was also a first for a tribally owned museum. (Courtesy photo)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at