Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

“A Native Place”

October 2nd, 2004

I needed to escape the CIT conference for awhile and recharge my soul. I went to the new American Indian Museum, which includes/covers all the Nations of South, Central, and North America. On my way there, I was sitting outside waiting for the subway, and a freight train rumbled by on the other side of the tracks. I guess because I was anticipating where I was going, I was attentive to the sensation of the train. Before I heard it’s arrival, I had been listening to the birds and the breeze rustling the leaves in the trees. Then a disturbance in the air, which grew louder and Louder and LOUDER until the earth started to vibrate. The train wasn’t even in view yet! It came around a curve and the roar was, while not deafening, louder than anything natural except perhaps an avalanche or a tornado. It lingered too…fading slowly, as if its passing had left an indelible mark in the atmosphere. I could imagine, for a moment, what it must have been like for those first trains to careen across the continent, rending the rhythm of the world.


When I got to the Museum, I walked around outside it first. The building itself is beautiful: you can feel its presence, the sense of calm reverence that it projects. There’s a small waterfall, reflecting pools, plants, several stones.
I had already decided I only had the time/energy to take in one floor. I chose Our Universes and Our Peoples. The concept of survivance (closest dictionary definition is persistence) was used to encapsulate three dualities, three tools of dispossession that First Peoples turned to their own advantage: guns (used for resistance), “God’s word” (used for resilience), and treaties (used for survival).
I learned so many things about nations I didn’t know anything about, and those whom I had heard of before still were presented in refreshing ways. The choices of the curators are instigation, I think, for what they must hope will be a resurgence of interest in the present-day conditions of living American Indian Nations. There was a very interesting exhibit on the history of “Native American history” that critiqued the ways others, even with the best of intentions, have presented the so-called “Indian story”. I have to say it was done with a great deal of tact, respect, and honor for the good intended by most of those folks, yet, it was emphasized clearly that this is the first time American Indians have had the chance to tell their own story to the world at large.
Did you know:
The Seminole, in what we now call Florida, never surrendered?
The Hupa heaven is a place where everyone dances forever?
The Day of the Dead commemorates a continuation of life?
John Bennett Herrington, Chickasaw, was the first American Indian in space?
Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the only American Indian to serve in the U.S. Senate, might be retiring this year? ­čÖü
The Ka’apor, in what we now call Brazil, say: “If you listen, I will strengthen you.”

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