Friday, May 23, 2008

Leave Stereotypes at Door of Navajo Museum

Leave Stereotypes at Door of Navajo Museum


The Navajo Nation Museum and Visitor's Centerdiscovernavajo.c0m

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz.—The staff at the Navajo Nation Museum and Visitor's Center knows that stereotypes about Native Americans exist, and they strive to dispel the myths.

"The ethics of the Navajo, the one you don't read about or you don't hear about on TV, it's not in the dictionary, that's the one we try to get across to the people," said Robert Johnson, Navajo cultural specialist. "Yes, there is a lot to learn."

War parties, teepees and brightly colored feathers are some of the Native American stereotypes that exist about the Navajo Nation today, Johnson said. When Navajo Council delegates travel the reservation, they too have to answer to those stereotypes, he said. The delegates decided they needed a bigger museum, a place where people could be educated about Navajo culture.

One museum program, Cultural Outreach, enables Johnson to travel the reservation educating its residents, especially the youth, about Navajo culture and language.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Navajo children from kindergarten to 12th grade have lost 70 to 80 percent of their traditional language and cultural knowledge, Johnson said. The museum and its programs help lower those percentages and spreading knowledge about the Navajo through educating tourists and the children on the reservation, he said.

Johnson travels to schools on the reservation and gives presentations about Navajo culture, traditions, taboos and language.

Johnson explains that the structure of the museum alone is educational to visitors. "This building represents a (Navajo) hogan," Johnson said. "It's all based on the concept of the Navajo way of life ... the design, the structure, everything."

The tribe started the museum in 1961 but had trouble finding a permanent facility. The museum was often moved from one location to the next. Finally, in September 1997, the museum opened its doors for the public to view its new 56,000 square foot facility located off of U.S. Highway 64 and Loop Road.

The museum is designed to take on all the traditional aspects of a hogan, with a hogan fire pit located in the center of the museum. A sunroof directly above the pit represents a hogan's smoke hole. The entrance faces east with the pillars inside the building set in their traditional places in accordance with Navajo culture.

The museum is host to four galleries that are located in four rooms within the museum. The Traders gallery, themed "Legacy of the Dine' Traders," is full of historical black-and-white photographs of Navajo traders.

"A lot of people didn't know that Navajos at one time were self sufficient," Johnson said.

A new theme for a gallery is the beginning of time according to Navajo traditions and stories. "It's all based on what kids or what the tourists would like to know," Johnson said.

The museum also houses the Navajo Nation Library and Research Collection; cultural and educational programs sponsored by a variety of organizations; conference rooms, an auditorium, food service facility and amphitheater. The museum's store features educational materials on Navajo culture.

Admission to the museum is free. Museum hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday until 8 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Sundays. Museum hours are subject to change.

For more information on museum hours and group tours, call 928-871-7941 or write to: Navajo Museum P.O. Box 1840, Window Rock, Ariz. 86515.

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