Native American Heritage at the Natural History Museum of Utah

Like most elementary age children in the United States, I remember learning about my state’s history, main agriculture, state bird and numerous facts about how the state was established.  As I grew up, my memory changed when I made my way to Colorado and all that remained of my Utah knowledge was of beehives, seagulls and pioneers.  All of that changed when I paid a visit to the Natural History Museum of Utah, and began to relive the memories beyond those of my middle school classroom.  Walking outside of the popular and current Gecko exhibit, past the displays of gems and minerals and beyond the exhibits of Utah’s weather, one place in particular called my attention.  A gallery of Native American art, crafts and history welcomed me in and before I knew it I was taken back to my childhood where my dad had taken me to Pow-wows and numerous activities with local tribes in southern Utah.  Many times I had asked my dad, “What happened to the Native Americans after the settlers came in?  Where are they now?”  It’s a difficult question, but this section at the Natural History Museum of Utah gave me a few answers.

Native American beaded collar and jewelry

What first catches my attention about Native Americans in current-day America is how dedicated Native Americans are to the U.S. military.  Since the War of 1812, Native Americans have served in the military and are the highest record of service per capita among ethnic groups.  One of the reasons for this is because of their warrior traditions and cultural values, a statistic I resonated with seeing that this is an ethnic group that values its heritage and past.  Another fact that caught my eye was how some tribes, specifically the Goshutes, struggle to make a living in remote lands.  Although family ties are resilient and babies are still carried in traditional cradleboards, in the Goshute reservation, most people end up moving away to make a living.  It seems that although Native Americans remain dedicated to their traditions, there is still a struggle to maintain their identity and culture in the modern-day world.

Native American clothing

Although I’m left wondering if it’s still possible to preserve Native American culture, a few quotes along the wall reflecting on merging Native American past with the United States future seems hopeful:

“My kids and grandkids know what our culture and traditions are.  Our language, we do speak it.  The reason I never moved off the reservation is because I wanted them to know who they are as indigenous people and to hold on to the history . . . We are blessed in a lot of ways.  Even though we don’t have material-wise richness, we are rich in our cultures.”

-Margene Bullcreek, Skull Valley Goshute

“I’ve made the choice to stay here and work with Utah and surrounding tribes.  If I empower, if I educate, if I give them a voice, they make the change.  It is within our spirit to talk about cancer, to understand diabetes . . . Helping develop the tools that will empower people to make healthy choices makes all the difference in the world.”

-Phyllis Pettit Nassi, Otoe-Missouria/Cherokee, Manager, Native American Outreach, Huntsman Cancer Institute

Reading these thoughts and others makes me hopeful that there can be a preservation and respect for past cultures as well as empowering them to be a part of our future.  It’s refreshing to see some people making a difference in Native American culture and seeing how to merge the past with the present without destroying cultural heritage.  During my visit to the Natural History Museum of Utah, I hope this is an attitude adopted not just in Utah and the United States but throughout the world.

This post is a part of Our World Tuesday and Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Budget Travelers Sandbox, Budget Travel TalkTanama Tales and Rachel’s Ruminations.

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  1. Linda @AsWeSawIt

    Agree! We used to live near Cherokee, North Carolina, a reservation on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I can understand the need to make a living but it was sad to see a tipi, a totem pole and even a Sioux war bonnet in the shopping district. I hated it most of all because it spoke volumes about the need for greater cultural education in America. The Cherokee Nation has a rich heritage and it would be wonderful to share more about it.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I’m glad you feel the same way as I do, Linda. Enriching education with more opportunities to understand Native American history and culture is so important to our world!

  2. Madame Ostrich

    Interesting statistic about the military. I never knew that! My experience growing up in Southern California was similar– lots of trips to Native American museums. Loved it.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Good to hear you had similar experiences visiting Native American museums. I didn’t know there were so many in Southern California!

  3. ladyfi

    Beautiful artefacts! Empowering the culture is a beautiful thought.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Yes, I think empowering people is such an important action to take. When we empower others, we empower ourselves!

  4. Janice / Dancing with Sunflowers

    As a Brit I haven’t had much opportunity to visit Native American peoples or even museums, but I’ve long been fascinated by the textiles and other crafts produced by them, and would love to visit Santa Fe in particular.

    Regarding the quote from Phyllis Pettit Nassi, I think there is much ‘the West’ can (and should!) learn from indigenous peoples, including Native Americans, but peoples from all over the world, about caring for the Earth and caring for ourselves using what the Earth gives us – food, remedies and so on. I would love to have the opportunity to learn more about all this.

    Your blog looks really interesting and I’m going to explore a bit more later. 🙂

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Hi Janice. I loved your insights into my post and I’m working on developing my blog so it focuses on culture all over the world. I always appreciate the lessons from indigenous people and people from my travels and I hope to share more on my blog. From my explorations in travels, fashion and history I want to share my discoveries of unique cultures worldwide. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  5. leah

    Yes, there were lots of native american museums where I grew up, too. Thanks for sharing!

    xx Leah /

  6. Juergen |

    We should preserve and celebrate native culture where ever we can. The sad thing is that so much has been lost already, often forcibly destroyed or suppressed. As you point out so well: most so-called ‘reservations’ are in out of the way places and offer no options for economic self-reliance. So the only options for the remaining natives are: move away, which means further separation from their cultural roots, or rely on meager government handouts.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Great observations, and I couldn’t agree more with your opinion to preserve and celebrate native culture.

  7. Ruth

    What you have written in here is true for the US and for other countries in the Americas. Areas with a large percentages of native tribes are plagued with poverty and little opportunity. I hope we can all learn to appreciate more the richness they can offer.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I feel the same way you do. It’s sad to see so many indigenous cultures around the world being undervalued. I hope these attitudes can change and we can all learn to embrace, respect and preserve one another’s heritages.

  8. Indrani

    Novel way of preserving old traditions, culture and art. I have seen some museums of Athens, Greece, they house such old stuffs from BC times!!! Glad to see stuffs here of native Americans, a learning experience for me.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I have yet to see Greece, and I hope to someday soon. It’s always great to see countries recognizing the importance of history and culture in society!

  9. budgettraveltalk

    Indigenous Cultures all around the world suffer the problem of surviving in today’s world and retaining the customs. The Natural History Museum of Utah seems to be on the right track.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I agree. I hope more places follow suit and I always look forward to finding museums and organizations that preserve indigenous culture.

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