A-Whaling We Will Go: Encounters of Knowledge and Memory at the Makah Cultural and Research Center

Essay Excerpt

Tribal museums/cultural centers, such as the MCRC, demonstrate a presumed authority to interpret the cultures of their respective tribes and to participate in projects in which knowledge is made about their tribes. In tribal museums/cultural centers, Native peoples are not just participating as informants, consultants, or even cocurators, but as owners and curators of their own collections. This opens up other possibilities for how they are able to influence their interactions with non-Native peoples. The hope is for greater Native American agency in counteracting stereotypical representations and exploitive relations. Nevertheless, these accomplishments and negotiations occur in a social landscape that continues to be structured in dominance. This is evident in how the museum has become one of the localized points of encounter with global forces, such as the international debate on commercialized whaling.

In the midst of the whaling controversy, it would not be surprising for public attention to turn to the direct representations of whaling in the Makah Cultural and Research Center. Perhaps more instructive than these expected representations of tradition are the MCRC's temporary exhibits, such as Riding in His Canoe, which make a subtle point. This point is that "being Makah"can continue in the midst of dramatic social change and that this identity may continue to honor the past at the same time thatit must adapt to survive.  (Erikson, 577)

About the Author

Patricia Pierce Erikson is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in the culture, history, and social movements of Indigenous Peoples of North America (including the United States, Mexico, and Canada). The geographic focus of her doctoral dissertation was the Pacific Northwest Coast, Mexico (Oaxaca), and transnational indigenous organizations that bridged North America's political boundaries. She remains engaged with indigenous peoples in these locations; however, recently shifting to Wabanaki-centered work, more specifically indigenous pedagogy. Whereas popular culture forms and heritage organizations provided the sites for her topical focus previously, Erikson has moved her work into the epistemological domain of public school curriculum. This was a shift that started when she worked as a Curator in Washington State and collaborated with the Nisqually Tribe to produce Nisqually curricular materials. The Wabanaki tribes of Maine have struggled for decades to influence Native American-related content in the schools and to re-shape the knowledge-making process about indigenous peoples in Maine. The history and current status of this movement, including implementation of what is commonly known as the "LD291 initiative" fascinates her.

Erikson's prior research resulted in the publication of the book "Voices of a Thousand People: The Makah Cultural and Research Center" (University of Nebraska Press), three book chapters, and eighteen articles (not including reviews), as well as wide-ranging scholarly lectures. Collectively, these publications express theoretical specialization in the intersection between indigenous social movements, epistemology, and nationalism. Erikson's Ph.D. is from the University of California-Davis in Cultural Anthropology and Native American Studies.

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