The Power of Self-Interpretation

By Sandy James, CIG
NAI Region 7 New Mexico State Representative

The Poeh Museum, Pueblo of Pojoaque, unveiled 3 new outdoor exhibits in April. These exhibits were completed through a partnership between the Pueblo of Pojoaque and the National Park Service National Trails Intermountain Region (NTIR).

ELCA Poeh Museum Unveiling

A Pojoaque Pueblo member reads one of the new outdoor exhibits while a Buffalo Dance is performed in the background. This dance is usually only performed in December and photographs are NEVER allowed. This big exception demonstrates the importance the Tewa people attached to the unveiling and their participation in the partnership that made this new exhibit possible.

The Pueblo of Pojoaque was one of 19 pueblos in New Mexico impacted by the Spanish who traveled along El Camino Real starting in 1598. Congress designated El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro as a national historic trail in 2000 as part of the National Trails System. The trail is co-administered with the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management in New Mexico. This is the first time that a pueblo culture in New Mexico has worked with NTIR to develop exhibits. You can read more about the exhibits at http://www.nps.gov/elca/historyculture/exhibits.htm

Dedication of the Exhibits

At the unveiling ceremony, residents of the Pueblo of Pojoaque and National Park Service staff dedicate three outdoor exhibits.

The cultural and historical resources at Pojoaque Pueblo range from the visible and tangible sites, buildings, cultural events and festivals to less tangible resources like elders’ stories and sacred and culturally significant knowledge. With the help of a grant from the National Park Service, the museum found elders in the Tewa community to tell and record their stories. Former director Christy Sturm said in an interview for the Santa Fe New Mexican, “We’re doing it backwards. The museum staff is not interpreting. The elders are interpreting it.” This project directly benefits the Tewa community since documenting cultural traditions helps preserve the culture and pass those traditions on to future generations.

A young dancer performing the Buffalo Dance.

A young dancer performing the Buffalo Dance.

Interpretation of native communities has often been grounded in a Euro-American frame of reference where the negative or clichéd has the potential to displace the positive or genuine. The Poeh Museum has a different approach. George Rivera, Pojoaque Pueblo Governor and a driving force behind the museum, told the Santa Fe New Mexican, “The philosophy about the exhibits here is they’re about Pueblo people by Pueblo people.” The exhibits are the people telling their own stories rather than theories of scientists or anthropologists being recited.

The permanent indoor exhibit at Poeh Museum, Nah Poeh Meng (Continuous Path), tells the story of Pueblo life from before 1598, on through 80 years of Spanish influence, to the Pueblo Revolt, up to Pueblo culture today. The exhibit is divided by seasons and features a series of rooms that tell the story of the Tewa people. Each season is a different era – starting with the early Indians, moving through contact with Europeans and ending with the contemporary room, which will resemble the interior of a modern Pueblo house built by the federal government. You can read about this exhibit by clicking here.

Founded in 1988, by Tribal Council Resolution, the Poeh Museum is a unique creation of Pueblo culture that serves Native and non-Native peoples alike.

Learn More:
Poeh Museum
78 Cities of Gold Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501
505.455.5041
http://www.poehmuseum.com

One Response to The Power of Self-Interpretation

  1. We can’t neglect to add our thanks to Lynne Mager, NPS, for her courtesy in letting us use her photos for this article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s