Native tribes of Utah are given their chance to offer historical perspectives on museum artifacts

Nov 28, 2022, 5:30 PM | Updated: 5:33 pm

Native tribes...

Indigenous Utahns sharing cultural perspective on artifacts. Photo: Natural History Museum of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) Anthropologists are using a grant to insure a lifelong understanding of Native tribes and Indigenous culture, long after their generations have passed. 

Utah is home to several Native tribes who are now having a chance to preserve their culture. 

National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) has gifted a grant to NHMU, Tanner Humanities Center and the University of Utah’s Anthropology as part of NEH’s A More Perfect Union initiative.

A More Perfect Union selects projects that primarily “investigate, examine, and work to express the experiences of Native Americans.”

The organization does this in hopes to give a better understanding of underrepresented communities throughout American history. 

“Historically, natural history museums have done a poor job collecting the deep cultural knowledge embedded in the objects they curate,” wrote the Natural History Museum of Utah in a press release. 

Additionally, over the last six months, according to a press release, researchers have paid tribal communities to share their Indigenous perspectives on items that pertain to their culture in NHMU’s collections.

An example of this is Rena Lane a 99-year-old Navajo weaver. After visiting NHMU’s collections, Lane, along with her family, were able to offer history and perspectives on rugs and baskets.

“It made an impression on my aunt,” said Lane’s nephew in a press release. “She was in a place that valued the rugs, and the culture and the people. And it adds validity to the research to ask input from someone who has been weaving for nearly a century.”

The future of Native research

Further, the grant will also support a six-year research project for University of Utah graduate students. These students will participate in outreach and communication with tribal communities. 

Knowledge, education, and preservation are hoped to be accomplished through the support. 

Other informational benefits from the initiative include updates to NHMU storage and databases. These updates will make the Tribal culture more accessible to consumers. Video and audio will be available on the museum’s databases for educational purposes.

“We are excited to celebrate and share the rich cultural heritage of Native Peoples,” said Erika George, center director, and the Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law in a press release.

“The prose, poetry, stories, and songs of Native Voices challenge us to confront our history and invite us to consider the power of hope and the potential for healing our relationships with one another and our natural environment. Hope feels more important than ever in our present moment.”

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Native tribes of Utah are given their chance to offer historical perspectives on museum artifacts