The politics of heritage: Native American museums and the maintenance of ethnic boundaries on the contemporary northwest coast
This dissertation is an investigation of the role of Native American museums in the construction and maintenance of ethnic boundaries in contemporary Native American communities. It is posited that the Native American museum is an "artifact" (Ames 1986) of the sociopolitical context of activism and militancy associated with the Red Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The Native American museum is seen to be an institution in which "culture" is mobilized as a strategy to preserve distinctiveness and facilitate ethnic boundary maintenance (Barth 1969b).The analysis presented here is based on a comparative examination of the exhibit and interpretive content of the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay, Washington, and the Suquamish Museum in Suquamish, Washington.Comparative assessment of the exhibit content of these two museums identifies that each expresses an "identity configuration" which collectively characterizes the people of each community. Each identity configuration is based on a constellation of symbols drawn respectively from the Suquamish and Makah past. Within the museum those symbols are coalesced into a "perceived past" (Shils 1981), projected as the essence of a people's distinctiveness.Finally, the question is posed as to whether the sense of continuity with the past projected within these two museums represents the "invention of tradition" (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983) or the perpetuation of continuity. It is argued that the characterization of the Suquamish and Makah within each museum mobilizes new symbols to represent an old idea--that is, of "the Suquamish" and "the Makah" as distinct, bounded entities. Thus, these two Native American museums are seen to be strategies in perpetuating a people's cultural, social, and historical continuity. It is concluded that the Suquamish Museum and the Makah Cultural and Research Center are exemplary of the museum as a "social instrument" through which Native Americans secure their survival as distinct peoples within a pluralistic North American society.
- Anthropology