I can’t be the only one who has watched a strangers’ eyes glaze upon revealing the field in which I study. “Heritage? So…like…history? ….Why?” Indeed, oftentimes it seems that people have this perception that the study of heritage is the driest of disciplines, increasingly obsessed with the over-and-done-with past while remaining blissfully ignorant of the fascinating progresses of the present.

This is not the case, of course.

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What do Coachella and Museums Have in Common?

When the National Museum of the American Indian opened to the public in 2004, it was immediately subject to a passionate and controversial discussion on museums, representation and ownership of aboriginal culture. As part of the Smithsonian institution, the primary intention of the museum was to ‘redefine the relationship between the museum world and native nations.’ Over a decade since its establishment, the museum has become a testament to the trials and errors of representing a minority culture in one of the biggest museum establishments in the world. Even the name itself- “American Indian” immediately triggers the implication of ownership over indigenous cultures in the Americas; such details prompt the question of how such a museum possibly be an empowering institution for the cultures it seeks to represent?

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