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Why we do what we do

By Rrebecca Fell-Mazeroski Manager of Interpretation
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

In this space, the staff at the museum frequently poses questions about objects in the collection: When made this? Why was it made? Who is in that photograph? The goal of these questions in the Tribune is to understand more about the collection that is in our care. It is also to connect more deeply with the community.

It is no secret most of us who work at the museum are not Seminole or even a member of other indigenous tribe.

Some of the questions asked are because we do not always understand what is obvious to the Seminole community.

It can you leave you feeling foolish when someone comes in with a look of incredulity and say “What do you mean you do not know why this thing was made?” Others question who we are and why we should know. Yeah, they get that we work at the museum. But, they want to know why should we know.

Pechanga’s Coastal Oak in Temecula, Calif. (Courtesy photo)

However, there is a bigger reason why we do ask. Although sometimes I get so wrapped up in our daily emails, tasks, and small details I forget why we do what we do. (I strongly suspect others do too.)

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the ATALM conference in Temecula, California on the Pechanga Reservation. Even in Indian Country many are not familiar with ATALM.

It stands for the Association of Tribal Archives, Library, and Museums. It is a multi-day meeting of those who keep the history, written knowledge, and objects of native cultures of North America, usually for the sovereign tribes they represent. Sounds boring, huh?

It is not. When Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek), first indigenous Poet Laureate of the United States brings you to tears with her readings, it is uplifting tears.

When a tour of the Pechanga reservation includes a coastal oak, it feels inter-connected. This oak, like the Council Oak, has witnessed their Tribe’s important history and provided support.

When the staff at the Navajo Nation Museum details the long process of getting a copy of their own treaty to the museum and then tells the story of a young child, who has learned the language, reading the treaty to the elder, there is an overwhelming sense of awe.

Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, speaking at ATALM’s opening ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

It also hints at the possibilities for all the tribes and nations of this country.

Finally, when the ambassadors of the Pechanga tribe share how their THPO worked with their archivist, to unearth a recording of their ancestor proclaiming clearly their ties to their creation mountain, and then use that record as evidence at the California State Lands Commission to prevent their creation mountain from being stripped mined for granite, it really hits: this is the reason why it all matters.

Here at the museum we do not just keep the stuff of the Seminole people and make little displays. Every act of collecting, of sharing, and connecting is a declaration of sovereignty.

Every day, each of us who choose to work for the Tribe, whether a member of a Native American community or not, are affirming the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s right to exist.

To see what we do every day, Tribal members are invited to have a personal behind-the-scenes tour given by an experienced staff member.

Please call us at 863-902-1113, ext. 12252 (Mary Beth Rosebrough, Research Coordinator) to schedule yours.