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Published: March 15, 2001.


Virtual Museum Collaborations for Cultural Revitalization: The Four Directions Model

Mark Christal, Loriene Roy, Paul Resta, Antony Cherian, University of Texas, Marty Kreipe de Montaņo, National Museum of the American Indian, USA


The Four Directions Project, funded by the U. S. Department of Education, is an education project with the goal of using technology to support culturally responsible education for Native American Students. One culturally responsive teaching strategy is virtual museum projects done in partnership with museums that hold important cultural items. The paper describes the learning project that led to in the creation of the Virtual Tour of the National Museum of the American Indian. Emerging from this experience is a Four Directions model for school-museum partnerships for virtual museum projects. The model considers such projects in the context of three overlapping concepts: culturally responsive education, cultural revitalization, and cultural collaboration. The model is illustrated through a description of virtual museum project activities from both the educator and museum professional perspective and through an account of the development of American Indian education and contemporary museums.

Keywords: virtual museum, virtual tour, culturally responsive education, cultural property rights, authentic learning, project learning, American Indian Education, Native Americans, school-museum partnerships, museum education, QuickTime Virtual Reality, QTVR

Museums have long been the repository of important cultural items. They make these objects available for public exhibition in carefully designed architectural spaces and more recently on CD-ROM and in the virtual space of the World Wide Web. In presenting their collections in carefully crafted and coherent exhibits, museums educate the public and perpetuate our cultural heritage.

Schools share the mission of cultural preservation with museums. They are natural partners in developing effective educational experiences for young citizens. Schools are also responding to the challenges of the 21st century by integrating new technologies into classroom practice. Creating a virtual museum as a classroom learning activity is one emerging strategy schools are exploring. This method uses new digital media, the World Wide Web and multimedia authoring to instruct students as they construct an educational resource for others. Some of these projects have been created in collaboration with public museums (McKenzie, 1995; McKenzie, 1996; Roy & Christal, 2000) .

An Emerging Model

The authors of this paper are educators and museum professional partners of a major education project. Our participation in virtual museum projects has helped us to see the virtual museum as an emerging model for school-museum collaboration. Though the model focuses on a specific type of museum and a particular population of students, we feel that it can be adapted to suit other museums and student populations.

The Four Directions project has been fortunate to have two museum partners that have given Native American students access to the important cultural property that remains in museum collections. These experiences are providing an evolving concept for museum-school-community collaboration that serves needs of all participants: students, educators, museums and the general public. We call this paradigm the Four Directions model for virtual museum collaboration. Three aspects of our experience with virtual museum projects guide the Four Directions model:

Culturally Responsive Teaching -- Virtual museum projects can be culturally responsive because they can teach through the culture of the child to bring community concerns and values to the center of the teaching-learning process. Students are motivated to excel because they are doing important, original work to recover and preserve their heritage. They gain from the knowledge of museum professionals and the wisdom of community elders. They develop skills in research, writing, social studies, science, mathematics, information literacy, and cutting-edge information technology.

Cultural Revitalization -- A common concern among Native American peoples is the recovery and preservation of their cultures and languages. Much of what remains of traditional material cultures resides in museum collections far from Native American communities. Virtual museum projects provide a way for communities to "digitally repatriate" precious items of cultural heritage. In the Four Directions Model, virtual museum activities also take place in the Native American communities. Students research and record local materials that supplement the museum's resources for the virtual museum. Local resources such as oral histories, cherished heirlooms, traditional stories, dances and songs, native language and contemporary arts get combined with museum materials to present the vision of a vital, living culture.

Cultural Collaboration -- Although museums aim to preserve heritage and educate the public, Native Americans sometimes object to the way museum exhibitions appropriate cultural property. Native Americans often want the public to have access to authentic knowledge of their histories and cultures, but they also believe that some aspects of their cultures should not be shared with outsiders. Virtual museum collaborations can provide a venue to address thorny issues of cultural property rights, to design protocols for cultural collaboration and to decide levels of access.

These three dimensions of the model interact with each other. For instance, students who work on creating virtual museums of their Native American cultures are participating in an authentic, culturally responsive learning project that also revitalizes their communities' cultures by enhancing community access to cultural material in museums that may be far away. Also, when museums offer Native American communities access to their collections in such virtual museum projects, they are entering into a type of cultural collaboration where the interpretation, accessibility and appropriation of important cultural property is negotiated rather than dictated.

This paper will present observations of school-museum partnerships for virtual museum learning projects in the light of this emerging model. Three of the authors are educators (Christal, Roy, & Resta), and one author is a museum professional (de Montaņo). The paper will, therefore, present viewpoints from both the education and museum perspective. Also, two of the authors are Anglo-American (Christal and Resta) and two are of Native American descent (Roy and de Montaņo). Thus, both professionally and ethnically, this paper is itself an example of cultural collaboration. We present our model based primarily on our shared experiences in creating the Virtual Tour of the National Museum of the American Indian (, a project in which students from three American Indian schools participated.

The Four Directions Project

Four Directions is a five-year project funded through a U. S. Department of Education Challenge grant. Its purpose is to promote the development of technology-supported culturally responsive teaching for Native American students. The partners in the project include nineteen American Indian schools in ten states that are part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs school system, four university partners, and two museum partners.

The Four Directions project recognizes the current lack of curriculum responsive to the cultures of Native American children. It also realizes that technology can provide a way to empower these local communities to create curriculum that fits their needs (Allen et al., 1999) . The historical circumstances of American Indian education further stresses the need for culturally responsive approaches. In the late 19th Century, it was United States policy to force Native Americans to assimilate European-American culture. The federal government enforced this policy, among other measures, by eroding the Indian's traditional culture as it relocated them to tribal reservations and by instituting a boarding school system for Native children that forbade the expression of all aspects of traditional culture (Adams, 1995) . Because of these historical circumstances, much of what remains of American Indian material culture resides away from their homelands in museums across the nation and in private collections. Still, many Native Americans clung to their cultures as well as they could under the circumstances. By the middle of the 20th century European-Americans gradually began to value the cultures of the continent's first peoples and to celebrate the cultural diversity of the nation. American Indian schools began to include aspects of Native cultures in their curriculum, and since the mid-1960s an increasing number of American Indian schools have come under direct tribal control (Szasz, 1977; Tippeconnic III, 1999) .

Despite the gains in Indian control since the 1960s, it is not enough to offset four centuries of domination and paternalism. The Indian Nations At Risk Task Force, chartered on March 8, 1990, studied the status of native education and reported that:

the existing educational systems, whether they be public or federal, have not effectively met the educational, cultural, economic, and social needs of Native communities... If Native cultures remain important today, as many Native political and educational leaders believe they do, they must again become a part of the educational process. Tribal groups must develop educational structures built on their cultural priorities and foster continued development and growth. Schools must do their part in supporting this movement

(Hirschfelder & de Montaņo, 1993, p. 99).

Today, for Native American educators, according to the 1976 Report by the National Advisory Council on Indian Education (NACIE), Indian education means

a method of teaching that revives an appreciation for Indian heritage and generates a positive self-image . . . educational policies should respect the wishes and the desires of the Indian people to design and manage their own educational program . . . [they should have] full involvement of Indian parents and community members... [and] include the method and content of teachings, which are designed and developed by Indian educators and Indian people reflecting Indian concepts and cultural values

(Hirschfelder & de Montaņo, 1993, p. 102).

It is in this context of contemporary American Indian education that the Four Directions project formed to promote culturally responsive education for Native American children.

The Four Directions Virtual Museum Projects

In the fall of 1998, three of the Four Directions partner institutions--the Pueblo of Laguna Department of Education, the Univeristy of Texas, and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)--began the first collaboration that brought Native American students, teachers, and community members to the NMAI George Gustav Heye Center Museum in New York City to create virtual museums. To help guide this first virtual museum project, Dr. Paul Resta drafted a concept paper, which has become the first explicit description of the Four Directions model for school-museum collaboration. In it, he explains the rationale for the collaboration:

For many years, Native American culture was undervalued and suppressed in America. Although the richness of Native American historical and contemporary cultures has begun to be recognized, exemplary curricular materials based on this richness are rare. In addition, in a rapidly changing world, much traditional wisdom will be lost before there is an opportunity for Native American students to learn about their own history and culture, and to share what is sharable with the world community. Teachers trained in methods of cultural sensitivity and in the use of technology may provide leadership in the accessing, preserving, and sharing of Native American culture with the world community. One means of doing so is for Indian schools and communities to use technology to collaboratively develop virtual museums (Resta, 1998, p. 3).

Students and teachers were to select objects from the museum collections in close consultation with community elders. The elders would help determine which objects were sharable and, in doing so, would lend their knowledge and perhaps their voices to the virtual exhibition.

Local community participation and development were priorities in the original concept paper. Each school community that was to participate in the virtual museum project would send a team of students, teachers, and community elders to the museum to select, record and research the materials to be included in the virtual museum. In addition, a summer program was proposed for each participating school community. In the summer program, community members would bring valuable cultural materials to the school to be recorded in digital photographs or QuickTime Virtual Reality for a local virtual museum. Local landmarks, natural settings and historical sites would also be recorded. Students could record tribal elders speaking about important objects, people, events and places in English and their native language to add to the local virtual museum. Some of the sharable locally created materials could supplement the materials offered in the virtual museum on the museum's server. In exchange, the media created at the museum could be "digitally repatriated" to the local community for use within the community. Thus, two virtual museums could potentially emerge from each museum-school community partnership: one offered by the museum and accessible to the public on the World Wide Web and another with access restricted to the local community. The first would offer only materials that tribal leaders had deemed sharable in that venue, and the second, local virtual museum would include more sensitive materials for community access only (Resta, 1998) .

That the first school-museum collaboration between Four Directions schools and the National Museum of the American Indian could not strictly meet every aspect of Resta's concept demonstrated not a deficiency in the project but the flexibility of the partnership. The NMAI was in the process of moving its entire collection to a new facility in Suitland, Maryland. Consequently, the full collection was inaccessible at the time of the proposed project. The items in the museum's current exhibitions, however, were accessible to the project. This meant that very few artifacts that reflected a given student's specific Native American culture would be available. As a compromise, students from several of the Four Directions schools decided which items in the exhibitions they wished to feature to create a virtual tour of the museum through the eyes of American Indian children.

In the spring of 1999 two school teams, one from Santa Clara School (Pueblo, New Mexico) and one from Hannahville School (Potawatomi, Michigan), traveled to New York to research and digitally record the student-selected items from the NMAI exhibitions. These materials were assembled into the Virtual Tour of the National Museum of the American Indian, which has been accessible via the World Wide Web since February, 2000 ( In May, 2000, Marty Indian School (Lakota, South Dakota) sent another team to extend the tour. The additional material was added to the virtual tour in fall 2000.

Museum Staff Activities

Nearly every department of the National Museum of the American Indian became involved in the Four Directions/NMAI collaboration, but the Resource Center, managed by Marty de Montaņo, coordinated the activities and hosted the visitors from the schools. NMAI staff found the Web to be a wonderful tool to prepare students before they came to the museum. The staff uploaded information about the museum to a private web site on the museums web server for the students to access before they came to visit. These documents provided information on the different departments in the museum and what each department did. The students, therefore, not only learned about the inner workings of a museum, but they knew a little more of what to expect when they arrived in New York.

NMAI also used the Web to communicate the progress of the project. At school, the students selected objects from exhibit catalogs provided by the museum and e-mailed their list of objects to the Resource Center. Staff placed images of the chosen objects on a private Web site. The museum's Conservation and Exhibition departments let Resource Center staff know which objects could realistically be taken out of their exhibition cases for QTVR photography. Museum staff communicated this information by annotating the images on the Web so the students would know which objects were available for their projects.

The Web was also used for planning and coordinating the de-installation of objects and the scheduling of panoramic photography. Floor plans of the galleries were posted on the Web and the schedules were indicated on the floor plans.

The students knew beforehand that they would not be allowed to touch or handle the artifacts and that some of the objects would not be suitable for QTVR treatment. Some were too fragile; some, like buffalo robes, were essentially flat; some exhibit cases were too difficult to open; some objects were too difficult to reach without de-installing other objects. They knew that the conservator would decide which objects were suitable for photography based on their condition. They knew that no food or even water would be allowed in the VR studio where the objects were photographed.

The project schedule was adjusted to fit into the museum's schedule and to take into account that most of the students were grade school students. Panoramic photography in the galleries took place between 8 and 10 a.m., before the museum opened. The students photographed the galleries while object handlers and exhibit personnel de-installed the objects that were to be photographed that day. Project planners scheduled four objects each day for QTVR photography, which proved to be a reasonable pace for the students. When the museum opened to the public at 10 a.m. half of the students photographed objects in the photo studio while other half researched the objects in the Resource Center library for the label content. By 3 p.m., the students were finished for the day. This schedule roughly followed their school day. The students were then free to explore New York City while the museum staff reinstalled the objects. The reinstallation could then take place during the relative quiet of the late afternoon rather than during the rush hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the galleries are full of touring school groups.

Many of the other museum departments were involved in this project. The Education Department needed to know which objects were de-installed each day. The cultural interpreters could then omit from their talks objects that had been removed. The Security Department had to be on hand to keep visitors away from cases while the de-installation and reinstallation were in progress. One case had gold in it and required an armed guard be on hand when the case was opened.

After the Conservation and Exhibition departments approved the list of objects to de-install, the Registration department had to know the location of each object. Object handlers from Collections Management were the only ones authorized to handle the objects. Finally, the museum hired a mount maker to make mounts for the objects so they could be propped safely on the turntable for QTVR photography.

Resource Center staff coordinated the entire undertaking, assisted in research for label content, arranged for catered lunches and provided computers for the students and hospitality for everyone.

The NMAI Virtual Tour

The virtual tour makes extensive use of QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR), which had been identified at the beginning of the Four Directions project as having significant potential in educational applications. All of the Four Directions schools have been offered training in the creation of QTVR media. There are two types of QTVR movies: panoramas and object movies. QTVR panoramas (panos) are made from a series of overlapping photographs taken from a tripod using a specially designed panning head. Software "stitches" the photographs into one seamless 360° scene. To interact with a panorama, one presses the mouse button when the cursor is on the movie and moves the mouse cursor in the direction one wishes to look. The panorama then scrolls in that direction.

The second type of QTVR media is the object movie. To make an object movie, one places the object on a turntable and takes a series of pictures at evenly spaced angles while turning the object. To interact with a finished object movie, one presses the mouse button when the cursor is over the movie and moves the mouse in the direction one wishes to rotate the object. The QTVR photographer can, furthermore, make more complex object movies by using a specially designed object rig to move a camera around an object vertically. The resulting movie has both vertical and horizontal rotation. One can zoom in or zoom out of both types of QTVR movies. Also, invisible regions called hot spots can be painted anywhere on QTVR movies. Hot spots trigger special actions when clicked on. They may launch new Web pages, label points on an object or in a pano, or bring up magnified details of an object.

Both types of QTVR are used in the finished Virtual Tour. The panoramas of the exhibition space serve as an interface for accessing the featured objects selected by the students. Clicking on a hot spot over the museum display of a featured object causes the QTVR object to load in a separate web page frame accompanied by an interpretive essay written by a student. Clickable floor plans of the exhibition space offer another method of navigating the virtual tour and accessing the virtual objects (see Figure 1)

Figure 1, NMAI Virtual Tour Screen Shot (
Figure 1, NMAI Virtual Tour Screen Shot (

Of the three schools participating in the NMAI virtual museum project, Hannahville has been the most successful in involving the local community to create a local virtual museum using local resources. In a three-day open house session at the school, community members brought native arts, crafts, costumes and cultural items that students recorded in digital photography and QTVR. Students wrote essays on the objects and used digital sound recording to add their voices to annotate their virtual exhibits. They used oral history techniques to record community members' renditions of traditional stories for their virtual museum. A year later, the school found a private museum in the region that gave them full access to its collection of Anishnaabe and historical items to add to their virtual museum. The museum is now an interdisciplinary effort involving the school at all grade levels. A publicly accessible component of the school's virtual museum activities is on the World Wide Web (

Virtual Museum Text Labels

A closer look at one aspect of the virtual museum project activities illustrates the Four Directions model in action. Students selected the exhibition objects they wished to feature in the Virtual Tour. They worked together in the creation of the virtual museum media, but each student individually researched and wrote the interpretive essays to accompany their selected items.

Historically, museum curators responded to their role in public education by writing and posting exhibition labels--captions that accompany an exhibited artifact or artwork. Museum labels became so revered that they often overshadowed the objects they described. In one of the earliest texts on museology, Goode (1895) went so far as to define "an efficient educational museum" as a "collection of instructive labels, each illustrated by a well-selected specimen." By contrast, contemporary museums now provide a forum for what Hemmings (1997) describe as the "multiplicity of narratives and the contestation of knowledge claims." For indigenous peoples, this approach translates to an invitation to participate in the digital repatriation of cultural objects to their centers of origin and an opportunity for Native voices to interpret their own cultural objects. It is a form of cultural collaboration between museums and Native people.

The children themselves interpreted the objects featured in the virtual tour. They wrote essays which can be retrieved by clicking on the thumbnail photograph of a given exhibit item. They wrote essays between 60 and 240 words long in the NMAI George Gustav Heye Center's Resource Center with the assistance of the project team members from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Texas at Austin. The students reviewed information about the objects in the published exhibition catalogs. They then studied the origins of the object by locating the culture's geographic homeland in atlases. They gathered published material in the Resource Center's reference collection and consulted with the Resource Center staff, especially those from cultures that created objects in the tour. They reflected on their own responses to the objects and on their own cultural heritage as they described the objects. In creating these essays, the children not only had an opportunity to become involved in interpreting the objects but they also honed their own skills in conducting library research and writing. They brought their own knowledge and values to the learning activity, which is the core feature of culturally responsive education.

Students considered the following questions when writing these essays:

Who created this artifact?

In his essay on a decorated birchbark box, Galvin described its creators as the Micmac, also known as the Lnu'k, people who lived in New England and Canada. Kara wrote about a Seneca headdress and mentioned that the Seneca call themselves "The People of the Big Hill" and are part of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Where did these people live?

Kara introduced the Haida as people who lived in Alaska and on an island off the western coast of Canada. Fay placed the Kiowa-Apache originally in Texas and later in Kansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Sara mentioned that the Chemehuevi, creators of a gourd depicted in the tour, live in southeast California.

What was the object's purpose? Why was it created?

Kara assumed that a rattle might be used by the Gitksan as either a musical instrument or in traditional healing. Sara mentioned that the Inka drank out of carved goblets during ceremonies. Marlena described a quilled mask that a horse would wear in a parade. Galvin wrote that Tshimshian carved a cedar box in which they would store valuables. Sara noted that the hole in a Mimbres valley bowl meant that the pot was placed in a grave site so that the spirit of the deceased would be released through the hole. Andrea mentioned that Ponca winter shirts were painted with illustrations of war exploits. They interpreted the symbols or shapes of objects: the eighth star on a porcupine quill box represented Great Britain and jaguars were sacred to the Inka of Peru.

What was it created from?

Galvin described how the Haida made bowls from sheep horn. Tierra described how an Assiniboine headdress was made with thinned Antelope horns and feathers fastened to a leather fringed strap. Tierra and Andrea describe how Osage women altered military uniforms and top hats into wedding dresses. Michelle listed the various materials used in Pomo baskets, from saguaro cacti to willow shoots.

How was it created?

The children described how the horns of mountain sheep were boiled or steamed and then shaped into bowls which were then carved. They described how Native women softened and flattened porcupine quills. Galvin described how his aunt, Maria Martinez, created a black-on-black plate, from the gathering of the clay to firing of the pottery. Sara provided a step-by-step process for creating a gourd rattle. Molly provided links to web sites that sold kits or provided instructions on how to make a deer hoof rattle.

Why did I select this object for the tour?

Kara selected a model Haida house because she thought other children would like to study the animals depicted on the exterior and interior of the model. Michelle chose a headdress from the Great Lakes area since she lives in northern Michigan. Fay explained why she selected an Ojibwe Bandolier bag: "I chose to write about this bandolier bag because it must have taken a very long time, a lot of love and pride to make this sort of thing

How is this object connected or not connected to my culture?

Galvin wrote that faces on a carved Tshimshian box reminded him of skinwalkers, monsters in his own culture. In discussing a Lakota turtle amulet, Marlena mentioned that her family still keeps an infant's umbilical cord. Fay observed that some families are learning how to make cradleboards for infants.

By selecting the black pottery plate made by his aunt, Galvin was "digitally repatriating" it to his family and community back in New Mexico, an act of cultural revitalization. When writing his interpretive essay on the plate, he relied primarily on his personal knowledge of the unique techniques employed by Pueblo potters and the traditional designs they employ:

My aunt Maria Martinez made this pottery plate. She is famous for her pottery work. When I was coming to New York, there was a pot that she made in the airport. When she gathered the clay it was dirt. She sifted the dirt to remove stones. Then she wet the clay and made a piece of art. She polished the surface with round, river rocks to make the pottery shiny. Then she brought the pottery outside, covered it with dry cow manure, and put tin and metal sheets on top of the wood she used to fire the pottery. Some black-on-black pottery has designs of kiva steps, rain clouds and feathers.

Kara's essay on the Seneca headdress illustrates the process of cultural collaboration. Her original choice had been an Apache medicine hat, but museum staff noted that the sacred nature of the object might draw objections from Apache people. One staff member knew a respected member of the Apache community in Arizona and called him, asking for advice. He requested that the medicine hat not be featured on the virtual tour. Kara selected the Seneca headdress as an alternative. When researching the text label, however, she was not able to find a reference that explained the headdress to her satisfaction. So she relied instead on primary sources for her essay. There were two museum staff members who were Seneca whom she interviewed for her essay:

This is a Seneca Headdress. The Seneca lived in the northeastern United States. They call themselves "The People of the Big Hill" because they believe their ancestors emerged from a big hill. The headdress is called "gustoweh," which means "real hat." This gustoweh is made of leather with a silver band, wampum beads and feathers. Rich Hill says that the feather standing up represents the leader standing over chaos. The feathers lying down are the chaos. Chiefs do not wear the gustoweh, but other men do. Stephanie Betancourte says that the feather standing up is an eagle feather, and the other feathers are turkey feathers. The Seneca are part of the Iroquois Confederacy, and each Confederacy member arranges its headdress feathers differently. Some members put one feather up, some put more than one feather up, or put feathers to the side. You can tell the headdress is Seneca because one feather is up.

The technologies supported on the World Wide Web offer many ways of expanding the function of the traditional text label. One can, for instance, add links to culturally appropriate web sites, develop an online dictionary/thesaurus to define terms used in the essays and to refer to additional terms, provide various levels of information for different audiences, incorporate text and sound files in Native language(s), incorporate additional sound files, add lesson plans for educators, provide a bibliography and resource list or add an interactive chat or discussion area that allows virtual museum visitors to discuss objects and their meanings online. In addition, community information can be added to the text. For example, the results of oral history interviews with Native people could provide additional detail on the history, creation, and use of various artifacts.

Cultural Appropriation, Cultural Property Rights, and Levels of Accessibility

For many years, the United States policy towards Native Americans encouraged assimilation. At the same time that native peoples struggled with issues of basic survival, they became objects of study by scholars in disciplines such as anthropology and literary criticism. Native material culture became a commodity as social scientists sought to salvage evidence of societies thought to be on the brink of extinction. Museums that were developed to house collections of Native American art and artifacts scattered cultural and historical objects far from their points of origin. Objects in collections were also often interpreted and presented out of context by scholars who were not tribal members. This practice detached the objects from the living communities that produced them.

By the late 1960s, there were efforts to initiate new federal policy of self-determination that would return to Indians the freedom to govern and educate themselves. Indian country is establishing new economies, rediscovering and revitalizing indigenous expression and participating in political and social issues affecting contemporary life such as natural resource management and protection of treaty rights. Native communities have started to take control over physical and intellectual access to their cultural objects by renovating existing museums and establishing new ones. The passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 has increased communication between tribes and museums. NAGPRA requires all museums that receive federal funds to provide Native communities with written descriptions of their collections of Native American holdings. It also delineates a process for the return of human remains and certain objects (funerary, sacred, and those of "cultural patrimony") to lineal descendants or tribes.

Virtual museum collaborations between Indian communities and museums with Native American material can provide a venue to address issues of cultural property rights and to design protocols for collaboration. Open access to material must be balanced with a Native community's right to control delivery of content. Even within tribes, there are varying levels of access to information. Some information may be available only during certain times of the year. In some traditions, for example, certain stories are told only in the winter. Other information may be shared only with those who meet qualifications of gender or level of expertise or training.

Several existing policy documents can be used to initiate conversations on use of and access to cultural property. Some policies guide decision making with a given Native community. The Hopi Cultural Preservation Office outlines its "Protocol for Research, Publications and Recordings" on its Web page ( Other policy documents reflect the deliberation of a single academic community or a consortium of individuals or organizations. An interdisciplinary committee of faculty at Northern Arizona University provided guidance to those conducting research in Native communities, reprinted in Mihesuah's text (1996) , American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities. The Mataatua Declaration on Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples ( expresses the views of a congress of 150 indigenous delegates from fourteen countries gathered in New Zealand in 1993. It lists recommendations to indigenous peoples worldwide, to states, national, and international agencies, and to the United Nations.

Cultural property rights policy documents and consultation with respected community members will help develop methods for cultural collaboration for museums that wish to handle and exhibit Native American materials responsibly. Because the Eurocentric traditions of museums have been critically challenged only recently, these practices are still evolving. The personal experiences of Marty Kriepe de Montaņo illustrate the struggle for responsible cultural collaboration from the museum perspective.

Cultural Collaboration, a Personal Story

When I first came to the Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation, in 1983, before the Museum was part of the Smithsonian, the exhibitions were interpreted from a non-Native perspective. On my first day at the museum, the staff eagerly guided me to the part of the permanent exhibits that featured artifacts that came from my community--the Prairie Band Potawatomi of Kansas. The case was full of beautiful objects and among the examples of beadwork and ribbonwork were three sachkins, traditional cloth blouses with large cape-like collars. The sachkins were pinned to the side of the exhibit case with the back of the blouses showing. I thought, "that's interesting, they're showing the back of the sachkins." But then, I saw another sachkin on a mannequin and it was backwards on the mannequin! My first thought was "have I been wearing my blouse wrong?" But then I realized they don't know what they are doing! I told them of their mistake, but they never did change the blouses. This oversight put me in an uncomfortable position. I was always embarrassed to show this exhibit to other native people, particularly Potawatomi.

Museums are a potentially rich source of information about Indian cultures. But they often reinforce stereotypes and devalue the lifeways and experiences of the people represented by their collections.

In 1985, when I was one of two Native Americans on the staff of the Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation, the head of Interpretive Services, who knew I was sometimes critical of the museum's labels, gave me label copy from an upcoming exhibit of buffalo robes so I could proofread them.

When I read them I was horrified. The worst example was a label that described a robe that was painted with a depiction of the battle of the Little Bighorn. The label referred to the "infamous battle where the Sioux and Cheyenne massacred Custer's troops." When I encountered the curator, I blurted out that I thought the label was terribly ethnocentric. She was genuinely surprised and asked what I meant.

I told her that, in the first place, the battle was famous to me because my heroes won. I said that if we are not going to present the information from a Native perspective, we should at least just call it a battle and be neutral. Furthermore, I said, you cannot use the word massacre to describe what happened to the 7th Cavalry. The cavalry was composed of paid, armed soldiers who attacked a peaceful, sleeping village. The fact that the soldiers all lost their lives does not mean it was a massacre. The word massacre implies innocence on the part of those killed.

She looked it up and discovered I was right, then asked what I thought we should say. I thought a second, and then replied that we could say they were "rubbed out." They did change the labels because of my input. They didn't say they were rubbed out, but they did make the labels neutral.

In 1991, staff of the newly created National Museum of the American Indian traveled throughout Indian Country to inform tribal members of the new museum and to ask them how the new museum could benefit their communities. At a meeting between NMAI representatives and culture bearers of the Hannahville Potawatomi in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Larry Matrious, an elder responded:

The Chamokmon (White people) took away our heritage and our things and we think they have a responsibility to us to let us use the things that came from our communities to give pride and self esteem to our young. Alcohol is killing us. We need some knowledge to help us combat this. We'd like to go to the museum and record the things and put together a video in which we interpret these things for our children.

When the group was asked about the display of sensitive objects in museums, Larry Matrious spoke with feeling about the exhibition of sacred bundles: "they are alive, like a person. So are the pipes. It is like seeing a person in a glass cage. It hurts my heart to see these things held captive in museums."

At a meeting at the Kickapoo Nation School in Kansas, teacher Howard Allen informed museum representatives that he would like very much to have visual documentation of collections that came from their community to share with the students. He said they did not have much documentation on things such as clothing and house styles and that they were very interested in finding some way that they could share the museum's resources with their students.

In 1988, Mr. Milo Yellow Hair, an Oglala Lakota, who visited the Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation, remarked in a visitor's comment book that "the museum is not a ceremony about to begin! Please remove the pipes of the Lakota from the stems. Separate and equal! Pila ma ya yelo."

He was referring to the fact that pipe rituals are a living tradition and that followers of this tradition are instructed that pipes should never be stored with the bowl attached to the stem. A pipe stem should only be put together with the bowl just before it is used. This is what Mr. Yellow Hair is referring to when he says the museum is not a ceremony about to begin. He ends his comment by saying in Lakota, "Thank you very much."

Cultural bias in interpretation alienates Indian people and fails to educate non-Indians. As keepers of a significant portion of the material culture of Native American, museums have a responsibility to Indians and non-Indians alike, to present information without ethnocentric bias. To be truly informative, museums must find ways to interpret Indian cultures on their own terms. As the ethnohistorian, Calvin Martin points out, "to ignore the Indian thoughtworld is to continue writing about ourselves to ourselves." (Martin, 1979, p. 158).

Throughout the past decade the National Museum of the American Indian has been developing a leadership role in cultural collaboration with Native peoples. It has done this by hiring Native American staff, consulting with leading Native community leaders and through its community outreach programs. The museum's collaboration with the Four Directions schools fits well into its existing mission and programs. The partnership was such a success that the NMAI is currently planning to make similar school-museum collaborations an ongoing feature of its programming.


By meditating on our experiences in this virtual museum learning project, we have proposed a Four Directions model for school-museum collaboration. The model proposes that schools and museums examine such projects as vehicles for cultural responsive education, cultural revitalization, and cultural collaboration. These three overlapping and interacting concepts illuminate the implications and potential benefits of school-museum partnerships. We have examined our project from the perspective of both the education professional and the museum professional and illustrated the model with experiences from the Four Directions/NMAI collaboration, the history of American Indian education and museums, and the recent trends in both of these disciplines. Through this examination we have learned that school-museum partnerships serve the needs and goals of both institutions, making schools and museums natural partners for collaboration and mutual benefit.

Our model has been developed in the particular context of American Indian education and a museum with a world-class American Indian collection. The history of the Native American experience has shown us the implications of our model in high relief. We believe that the model may shed considerable light upon school-museum partnerships that serve other student populations and museums with different types of collections.

Although cultural change is inevitable, institutions such as schools and museums can moderate cultural change by seeking to preserve cultural heritage. Our virtual museum project has given us particular insight into this phenomenon. Central to our model is the notion of cultural revitalization. We have seen Native American children and their communities collaborate with museums in cultural recovery by "digitally repatriating" to native communities objects long removed from their origins. By giving native people central, authoritative roles in the project, our virtual museum has provided a forum for cultural exchange as well as cultural recovery. It has provided a venue for cultural collaboration that reaches out to the global community through the World Wide Web.


The authors acknowledge financial support from the Four Directions Technology Challenge Grant (#R303A50083). The grant is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and managed by the Pueblo of Laguna (New Mexico) Department of Education. We also thank Antony Cherian for reviewing this manuscript for publication.


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