Museum prepares for new Native American exhibit
According to local Native American lore, a woman began a walk one day from Pyramid Lake, through the Truckee Meadows to the Carson Valley.
As she walked, she heard a noise coming from a water bottle she was carrying. It sounded like bees, so she ignored it and continued walking.
But as she walked, she heard more noise that sounded like voices talking. She stopped at Double Springs in modern Carson City and opened the bottle. Four tribes came out.
The Northern Paiute headed north to Pyramid Lake, the Western Shoshone headed east, the Diggers went into California and the Washoes stayed in Double Springs, according to the legend recounted by Ben Aleck, collections manager of the Tribal Museum and Visitor Center at Pyramid Lake.
It’s not exactly the creation story an archeologist would choose, but it’s a story similar among Northern Nevada’s three major tribes. And for the first time in a look at their history, Native Americans’ stories of how they came to be and of how they view their history will mix in a museum exhibit with the stories historians and archeologists draw from artifacts.
“Typically people have ignored the people they’re discussing in their displays making them pretty one-sided, just the museum’s view,” said Gene Hattori, museum curator of anthropology and co-curator of the new exhibit. “We are offering a number of views.”
Hattori and Aleck suspect not everyone is going to agree with what is presented in the “Under One Sky” exhibit. If half the Native Americans and half the archeologists walk away upset with the display, Hattori said, he’ll know he struck the proper balance.
“That’s healthy,” Aleck said. “Museums up until now always portrayed Indians from one angle, that archeological angle. Here, you have native people in the position to correct facts and historically to give a truer picture of history. People may disagree, but at least it’s not a one-sided story.”
The water bottle was so central to early native life, a willow, pine-pitch covered bottle marks the start of the Nevada State Museum’s new exhibit in its changing gallery. It is also indicative of water issues so important now to tribal people, Aleck said.
The exhibit was born of a dispute with the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone over the 9,500-year-old remains of Spirit Cave Man. It became a goal of the museum to recreate a good relationship with the tribe, and around three years ago, the idea for the exhibit was born. When former Fallon tribal chair Alvin Moyle responded in a letter agreeing to the exhibit with native participation, he signed the farewell of the letter “under one sky,” Hattori said.
Under One Sky opens to the public June 22. The museum contracted with the University of Nevada, Reno’s Oral History Project to collect stories from tribal elders telling creation stories, stories of life in boarding schools and other stories relating to the tribes’ current history.
Archeologists weigh in with a gallery of museum collections including ancient native baskets, jewelry as well as a life-sized cave representing a hypothetical archaeological site. A tin can sticks out of a layer of it to represent the more modern side — the vandals and robbers who steal from historic sites — of 14,000 years of historical archeology. The traditional lifeways gallery is a representation of the marshy Stillwater area near Fallon, the waters and reeds from which were crucial to native life.
The historic section includes artifacts chosen by tribal leaders to highlight the things they deem important: from water issues to Indian cowboys. The section highlights historical events at Virginia City and the Stewart Indian School and includes artifacts from the closed Indian School Museum. Aleck said the most important parts of the exhibit, besides artifacts on display for the first time, are those where the natives tell their own stories about the dramatic changes to their culture in just the last 150 years.
“It’s a work in progress,” Aleck said. ” We need to be truthful and give an exhibit that will challenge people in their way of thinking.”
The exhibit cost roughly $300,000, and after 2-1/2 years, the exhibit will be moved to the main museum to update it’s permanent Native American exhibit. Under One Sky will also evolve to include new exhibits, eventually including a hands-on area where children will be able to make tule-style ducks and boats. The June 22 open house will be free and will include Native American dancers and vendors. Call 687-4810 for information.
For information on the Nevada State Museum’s Under One Sky exhibit, call 687-4810. The exhibit opens June 22.