On May 20, 2022, the Field Museum presents a new permanent exhibition Native Truths: Our Voices, Our Stories. Over four years in the making, the groundbreaking exhibition was created with the guidance of an advisory council of 11 Native American scholars and museum professionals, and in partnership with 130 collaborators representing over 105 Tribes. Visitors can experience stories told by Native people of self-determination, resilience, continuity, and the future that come to life through historic and contemporary beadworks, ceramics, murals, music, dance and more.
A special program celebrating the opening of Native Truths: Our Voices, Our Stories and the Native collaborators will inaugurate the exhibition on Saturday, May 21. The schedule includes:
10:00 am Menominee Peace Tree Ceremony in Rice Native Gardens
1:30 pm Opening Program in James Simpson Theatre Featured Speakers:
- Julian Siggers, President and CEO, Field Museum
- Alaka Wali, Ph.D. Curator Emeritus of North American Anthropology, Field Museum
- Brian Vallo, Native Advisory Committee Member
- W. Richard West Jr., President Emeritus, The Autry Museum of the American West
- Cynthia Chavez Lamar, Director, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution
2:20 pm Procession by the American Indian Center to Stanley Field Hall
2:30 pm Ribbon Cutting and Blackfeet Posting Dance
In addition to the main opening celebration on Saturday, May 21, a robust series of programming continues throughout the weekend. Artists and collaborators from Native Truths — including Lydia Chavez, Kelly Church, Max Early, Karen Ann Hoffman, Michelle Sylliboy, Jason Wesaw, and students from Stillwell High — offer workshops, demonstrations, artist talks and poetry on Friday, May 20 and Sunday, May 22.
Native Truths: Our Voices, Our Stories breaks the mold of a traditional exhibition and instead of focusing on objects, it will be driven by the stories, both historical and contemporary, told by Native American people in their own voices. These stories are supported by contemporary art, poetry, photography and historical objects from the Museum’s collections. With a special section devoted to the Native community in Chicago, other galleries within the exhibition will rotate over the years, giving space for new stories from Native Americans across the United States and Canada.
“The exhibition will feature Native American voices telling their own stories,” says Field Museum Head of Exhibitions Jaap Hoogstraten. “This required the Field Museum to fundamentally change the process of how we co-curate exhibitions with communities.”
Exhibition is ‘as needed as ever’
Native Truths: Our Voices, Our Stories highlights Native historic and present-day stories of sovereignty, resilience, continuity and the future. Visitors will have the opportunity to get a close-up look at California basketry traditions passed on across generations, experience music-making through the eyes of a young Lakota hip hop artist, follow the process of Meskwaki efforts to revitalize heirloom and ancestral plants, delve into the history and importance of Chaco Canyon, and visit the Pawnee Earth Lodge in a new context.
Meranda Roberts, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher and one of the co-curators for the exhibition and a citizen of the Yerington Paiute tribe, says she hopes that Native Truths will be a starting point for the Field and the Chicago community to discuss colonization and the ways that Indigenous communities have been harmed, and for Native people to tell their stories on their own terms.
“This exhibition is as needed as ever,” Roberts says. “Our country is at a precipice at thinking about how to come to terms with the horrendous ways it has treated our people, how to address that history, and how to ensure that it never happens again. I think this exhibition does a beautiful job at highlighting the way Native people should be celebrated and talked about in public spaces, like the Field Museum.”
‘A vibrant story of resilience and innovation’
Visitors will see items from the Field’s collection like traditional regalia and pottery and understand their historical significance, as well as exclusive artwork created especially for this exhibition by Native artists including poetry, music and murals showcasing their experiences today. Multimedia interactives will showcase unique skills like basket weaving, as well as some of the most pressing contemporary issues Native people face.
“I think visitors will be blown away by the way in which the items from our collection and the contemporary pieces we have borrowed, commissioned or purchased especially for this exhibition seamlessly work together to tell a vibrant story of resilience and innovation in the face of trauma and continuity of knowledge traditions across generations,” says Curator Emeritus of North American Anthropology Alaka Wali, PhD. “This is not a chronology of events, but rather a new and completely different perspective on Native American and First Nations experiences, world views and aspirations.”
Collaborators for the exhibition were intentional in telling Indigenous stories to provide visitors with an understanding of Native American experiences and culture, perhaps righting previously held stereotypes or beliefs.
“For Native visitors, I also hope there is an instant connection. I hope they see themselves, see their relatives, their grandparents, and aunties and uncles,” says Debra Yepa-Pappan, the Community Engagement Coordinator for the renovation project who is Jemez Pueblo and Korean. “For non-Native visitors, we’ve been working to make this an immersive experience that allows them to come into our home — learning from us, not just about us. I’m hoping they get a better understanding of Native people and see the humanity in us to start to challenge stereotypical images they may see around the city and around the country.”
A ‘new way forward’
The exhibition is the result of years of work and collaboration between Indigenous advisers and artists, as well as the Native and non-Native Field Museum staff, which will set the precedent for future projects.
“I feel really privileged to have worked with such talented curators and developers at the Field over the past four years and to add my voice to the wise and caring Indigenous advisors on this project,” says Patty Loew, PhD, a member of the advisory committee who is of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. Loew is the director for the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research and a professor in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
“I think visitors will really get a true sense of Native truths when they experience this new exhibit,” Loew added.
“With the reimagined Native North American Hall, the Field Museum is breaking new ground and setting precedent for future galleries,” says Field Museum President Julian Siggers. “Working with our Native partners through every part of the exhibition process has not only yielded a rich and rewarding experience for all of us but also established a new way forward for how the Field and other museums work in partnership with living communities.”