Weaving a new shared authority: the Akwesasne Museum and community collaboration preserving cultural heritage, 1970-2012
Museums reflect power relations in society. Centuries of tradition dictate that museum professionals through years of study have more knowledge about the past and culture than the communities they present and serve. As mausoleums of intellect, museums developed cultures that are resistant to relinquishing any authority to the public. The long history of museums as the authority over the past led to the alienation and exclusion of many groups from museums, particular indigenous communities. Since the 1970s, many Native groups across the United States established their own museums in response to the exclusion of their voices in mainstream institutions. As establishments preserving cultural material, tradition, and history, tribal museums are recreating the meaning of "museum," presenting a model of cooperation and inclusion of community members to the museum process unprecedented in other institutions. In a changing world, many scholars and professionals call for a sharing of authority in museum spaces in order to engage the pubic in new ways, yet many cultural institutions s struggle to find a way to negotiate the traditional model of a museum while working with communities. Conversely, the practice of power sharing present in Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) tradition shaped a museum culture capable of collaboration with their community. Focusing on the Akwesasne Museum as a case study, this dissertation argues that the ability for a museum to share authority of the past with its community is dependent on the history and framework of the culture of the institution, its recognition of the importance of place to informing the museum, and the use of cultural symbols to encourage collaboration. At its core, this dissertation concerns issues of authority, power, and ownership over the past in museum spaces.