Tuesday, October 17, 2017

ATALM 2017 and Thoughts on Activism

This is the 10th anniversary for the Association of Tribal Archives Libraries & Museums. It was my second year attending. I notice more and notice more of it more clearly now. The activism I saw last year was personal except for Standing Rock. We all signed a banner and stood behind it for a photograph to show our solidarity. Many had been, were going, and were sending supplies to the

This year I saw the personal and native activism as well, but with broader coverage in the honorees Winona LaDuke and Dr. Henrietta Mann (video of their speeches, and others', here) , and other speakers. I have only recently begun to consider myself an activist and, in the process, I have discovered I am not content with the way activism works. Oh, I absolutely believe it’s necessary; I want it to have quicker, more substantial, longer-lasting results. Perhaps both Natives and non-Natives can join forces to improve results.

Years ago, I stopped believing that museums are neutral. They are advocates of a certain theory or ideal or approach or story when the curators, educators, and leaders leave out or leave in any message or information in their exhibits, programs, collections, and research. Space and public attention are not viable arguments of self-defense here. What we choose to show or not show makes a point of view.

At the Climate March, Honolulu 2017
I am an activist for a climate that continues to support human life, choosing an activist approach that creates a more just, healthy, verdant and peaceful world for all, not just the lucky ones. I’ve been professionally identifiable as a sustainability proponent for over a decade, and had been a private practitioner for two decades before that without realizing it. And now there is no holding back. This is about scaling all change on behalf of a global climate.

My activism began in late 2016. Since I am new to this, I was hungry at this ATALM conference to identify the parallels in native activism with climate activism. Please notice, I do not say not environmental activism; that would leave out goals for human justice, eliminating poverty, spreading equal rights. Some are simply parallels of the activist challenge (discovering a path, blending one’s identify with the cause, garnering useful attention and building momentum, and defeat, success, perseverance). Others are the parallels found in connection to the environment and all that is part of it, connections to sovereignty of people and other living things, and connections to security of heritage – ours or others’.

At ATALM I began thinking that there is an alignment we museum professionals can build on.

What does the activism of Native Americans working in tribal libraries, archives, and museums – personal or professional - have to teach the climate activists in museums, and visa versa? I know I and my peers need lessons to support our perseverance. Perhaps, in exchange, Native Americans can find value in mainstream museums’ experience with facilitating difficult conversations. I know from my client conversations about sustainability issues in their practice, that their guilt can get in the way of their progress; surely that’s the same when non-Natives visit a tribal museum and spend more time processing their ancestral crimes and heritage of guilt than hearing what Native Americans have to tell them about their lived experience today, and rather than choosing how to find a way to contribute to making it right.  

I also know how much I benefited from the storytelling in awardees’ acceptance speeches during the conference. I acquired more memorable lessons that way than from a conference-centric concurrent session. (The sessions taught me; the activists inspired me.) I suspect storytelling lessons can help climate activists share their messages more effectively. In exchange, I bet the History Relevance work of AASLH, that focuses on the values of history, would be an excellent tool for tribal organizations working to connect their histories with their realities of today as they help non-Natives see the historic parallels and the long arc of peoples who never vanished.

ATALM 2017 was a sobering, inspiring conference; sometimes overwhelming, always warm and always welcoming. Mainstream and tribal professionals at any library, archive, and museum have so much to share with each other. I so look forward to more of it.

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