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The Indian Museum of North America Transformation Article

December 22, 2019


Most South Dakota residents and visitors are familiar with the massive carving of Oglala Lakota leader Crazy Horse taking shape in the Black Hills, which honors Native Americans throughout North America. Not everyone, however, is aware that the Crazy Horse Memorial also hosts The Indian Museum of North America, which is currently undergoing a dramatic transformation.

“We’re going to redefine the public’s understanding of what a museum is,” said Andrew Dunehoo, museum curator and director of cultural affairs. “We’re moving away from the chronological, linear model; instead, we’re using a native lens, one that shares cultural concepts from eight eco-regions, with the principle of connection to the Earth at the center.”

The 60,000-square-foot facility’s six galleries will be organized by these cultural concepts: Geography, Home and Community, Ecology and Food, Adornment, Leadership, and Modern and Contemporary Art. Within each gallery, visitors will have access to the artifacts and stories of native peoples from the Arctic, Pacific Northwest, Southwest, Great Plains, Northeast/Woodlands, Southeast, Central America and the Hawaiian Islands.

To tackle this three- to five-year project, Dunehoo and his team are working closely with Jhon Goes In Center, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation who was raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, earned a degree in museum studies from the University of Colorado’s Henderson Museum at Boulder, and went on to work with the Denver Art Museum’s Native Arts Department, where he also served on the Board of Trustees for nine years.

In addition, Goes In Center served in an advisory capacity with History Colorado and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He currently lives in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he has served on the South Dakota Art Museum’s Board of Directors for one term; he also has been an advisory board member for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation’s Red Cloud Heritage Center for 10 years.

“Millions of people visit Crazy Horse each year, drawn to native cultures, so we have a tremendous opportunity here,” Goes In Center said. “The Indian Museum of North America at Crazy Horse is evolving, and with native consultation, the museum will be able to tell stories with context and a strong sense of place. We need to erase what Hollywood has done, because it’s not a good story, and it’s told from the point of view of the conquerer.

“In the native view, we don’t dominate the Earth, we’re part of it,” he continued. “So in telling our stories, we’re also sharing our adaptability and resilience — and emphasizing the importance of environment, because our North American cultures evolved in these distinct eco-regions. In this way, we’re reaching out to the next generation of learners who are not influenced by stereotypes.”

“We’re grateful for Jhon, because he’s helping us define our geographic concept, with that Earth connection at its center,” Dunehoo said.

Dunehoo and Goes In Center have their work cut out for them, as The Indian Museum of North America’s collection comprises 11,000 artifacts that all have potential roles to play. These artifacts, according to Dunehoo, also set this museum apart from its contemporaries.

“We are not a collecting museum,” he explained. “We’re dedicated to sharing the traditions and heritage of living cultures, not creating a collection. Families entrusted their precious items to us, and each piece comes with its own story and its own energy. We are their stewards, and it’s our responsibility to share those stories and ensure that North America’s native perspectives are not lost.”

To date, the Crazy Horse Memorial has completed the Modern and Contemporary Art gallery, which demonstrates the intersection of native cultures and artistic expression. Not only does it share the various mediums in which artists explore the connection with Earth, it emphasizes the richness and diversity of native cultures, which continue to thrive today.

Dunehoo and his team also will be working with Sean Sherman to develop the Ecology and Food gallery, which will explore how food affects culture. Sherman is the well-known Oglala Lakota chef and author who founded The Sioux Chef and the nonprofit North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems organization.

“This is part of fully realizing our stewardship role,” Dunehoo said. “It’s about our deep responsibility to today’s culture bearers, which was so important to Korczak and Ruth Ziolkowski from the very beginning.

“At Crazy Horse, we all know that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves,” he added. “As (daughter) Monique Ziolkowski says, ‘The mountain carving is the smallest task we’re working on here.’”

The Indian Museum of North America Transformation