For Gabe’s impression of the Potawatomi Cultural Center visit his blog.
Our second class trip was as delightful and as insightful as our first. We toured the Potawatomi Cultural Center Library and Museum which are all housed in the same building. Kim Wensaut who is the librarian on staff and the director Michael Alloway led the tour beginning in the library area.
The first thing that a visitor notices coming into the library is the enormous mural that is painted around the perimeter of the top five feet of wall to the ceiling. The mural begins with the Potawatomi creation story and goes through the history of the tribe into the modern era. The mural was created by local artists and community members. In the stacks there are approximately 1400 titles, cataloged in a system that Kim created. Although her Master’s is in English not Library Studies, she has familiarized herself with various organizational systems and has created a comprehensive catalog for the collection. The main focus for collection building is acquiring texts that are either written by Native Americans or are focused on Native American knowledge or history. One of the goals of the library is to be a center for Native American research where people can come to self-educate on specifically Indigenous Peoples issues. Kim is also a speaker/student of the Potawatomi language, so there is special interest in building a collection that supports learning/education of Native languages.
The museum part of the Cultural Center is a collection of polished displays that convey well the history and culture of the Potawatomi. The collection consists of many art related artifacts, including many cloth items embellished with intricate beadwork. There is an AV display that features storytelling in Potawatomi and English, and also another that highlights traditional dances.
From the museum we moved downstairs and looked around the archives. The archives were kept in the basement on movable shelving. Mike showed us several artifacts and discussed some of history behind the items. They are still in the process of cataloging everything in the archives, so they expect that to be an ongoing process.
Also in the basement there is a photo studio and darkroom that the newspaper uses on occasion. The final gem of the Cultural Center was the community room.
At one end of the basement there is a large circular room, with many windows and a kitchen. This room is used to support many community functions, including funerals and feasts. It is designed with access to an outside fire pit for ceremonies and celebrations and even has an elevator so that elders may easily get around the facilities.
After the tour of the Cultural Center, Kim gave us a driving tour of the community. We visited the health center, which is very modern and includes many services, from mental health to dental. This center supports not only tribe members, but also community members from outside the reservation. Then Kim showed us the varoius housing places and center for the elders. We talked about the ongoing tension between the tribe and the other surrounding communites. There has been a history of racism, which still somewhat persists, as well as political and social upheaval due to the casino and gaming. However, there have been many positive changes for the community, like all the places we toured, plus I think a renewed interest in cultural values, like language and heritage. Hopefully, these positive aspects of development will help smooth the road for further growth and understanding in the community.
We finished the day with dinner at the casino. We are were all very grateful to Kim and Mike for there guidance and sharing with us knowledge of their community. The programs and infastructure that have been developed to educate the population I think serve as a great example for other reservations/communites seeking to enhance cultural resources.
Today was an interesting class in that we all met at the University Club. We were joined by Ryan Comfort (Recruitment & Retention Specialist [Student Diversity Programs]) and his assistant Aaron Bird-Bear, Tracy Peterson (American Indian Student Academic Services), and Janice Rice (former AILA president and pretty much Jedi-master in the art of the Native library).
Ryan was very interested in the bibliography we are compiling for TLAM, as he is attempting to do something similar himself. (He mentioned a collaboration on the bibliography should be in order and then he would publish the result, or at least make it available to those interested.) Overall, Ryan seemed very excited about having a “community/student organization like TLAM” because he could envision a relationship into the future–especially since a mojority of the class will be returning students next year. (It is worth noting, too, that Mr. Comfort expressed to Omar and I that he will be contacting professors at SLIS about TLAM to find out who may want to get involved in the future.)
Ryan & Tracy just returned from a visit to Potawatomi’s museum. (Incidentally, Ryan and Tracy are undertaking visiting all the tribes [several times] in WI to open communications and encourage tribes to consider artifacts that would be representative of their tribes for a project.) Although Tracy doesn’t have formal background in librarianship, he has worked on a native library project for Cornell (I believe he cited a library which no longer exists in Brooklyn?) in which he acted as a Native representative.
Tracy is, essentially, a person who knows many people–if TLAM is looking to track down people in a certain area or field in the future, then Tracy could be an asset.
It also came to our attention, thanks to Janice, that Tracy and Ryan brought gifts of tobacco to the Potawatomie’s–and was much appreciated by the elders. This brings up the question: Do we need to do something of this nature for our own TLAM trips–or would this be inappropriate? Obviously, a gift of some sort would be something to consider for their time.
Misc.: Janice mentioned today in her talk that as a child in Tomah, Inidans did not have interaction with the library. In fact, her mother would drop her off and wait for her in the parking lot while she went in. (Outside Tomah, Janice also cited a library where native children were more or less banned from the library.) It wasn’t until Janice hit undergraduate at LaCrosse and Eau Claire that she discovered the amazing resources of a library. Janice took some library classes in undergrad. but majored in Ed. Eventually, she was hired as a youth services outreach consultant for a number of the small native populations in northern WI. (Subsequently, Janice went on to get two Library masters ans serve as AILA president and now works as the Native American collection manager at College Library.)
As she alluded to in her presentation, it was in her role as a consultant for the library that she began to realize how the library was non-existent to her as a child; but then, as a student and adult, she could see how she wanted to bring the library to others in the Native American community. This realization launched her native-focused librarian career, really–as well as that of other formative figures like Loriene Roy and Lotsee Patterson.
-In Janice’s words: “Many up in Indian country don’t respond to e-mail; the phone or in-person is what they respond to.”