People want to know more about American Indian history and culture. But many don’t know where to start. We must acknowledge that there is a lot of content online and in books and magazines that is written from a non-Indian perspective and some of it, intentional or not, just reinforces decades old stereotypes. Many friends from Indian Country are exhausted from years of attempts by well-intentioned people to “tell their story.” After many years of exploitation, tribal elders and scholars have taken charge of their narrative and indigenous scholars have developed better methods of learning and sharing history and culture.
It’s within that framework that Wyoming Humanities began a project two years ago to give voice to the tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation to tell their joint history. We found a near universal lack of understanding of how these two tribes ended up on this reservation. When Governor Mead signed the “Indian Education for All” act in March of 2017, we conceived a project to help bring the history of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes to the schools and libraries of Wyoming. Called Two Nations One Reservation this project consists of an easy-to-assemble “pop-up kiosk” exhibit with handouts that can be put into a classroom and used by a teacher, or put in a library for people to explore. We provided more than 130 exhibits, valued at over $1,500, free of charge to every school district, every library system and community college, many museums and public venues, and several other locations. The feedback on these exhibits has been truly gratifying. Tribal members have told us that they’ve known their own tribal history but haven’t seen it interlaced with the other tribe’s story. Imagine how proud that makes us!
But the most gratifying part of this story is the crowdsourcing of history that occurred in order to make this project happen. Elders and tribal educators from both tribes were interviewed and consulted by our research partner, Tom Rea of WyoHistory.org as he created a lengthy chronological summary. Then, more than 60 tribal members (30 from each tribe) were sent the document to provide feedback and additional contacts with whom to consult. From there a shorter final document was reviewed by a smaller group and published for feedback. All of these stages, including the community feedback, are documented on the web page. The document was then used by the creative design firm Warehouse 21 of Cheyenne to design and print the portable exhibits. They were amazing to work with and we are over-the-moon proud of the results of their ability to translate text into image.
This project was supported by an incredible group of tribal members and friends. Both tribal councils, individuals including, Merle Haas, Tillie Jenkins, Sergio Maldonado, Caroline Mills, Dianna Mitchell, Iva T Moss, Johanna Nunez PhD, Scotty Ratliff, Lynette Sinclair, Orville Sinclair, Marlin Spoonhunter, Tarissa Spoonhunter, Wilma Swallow, James Trosper, John Washakie, Dodie White Eagle and a larger group of individual tribal members from whom we did not receive permission to share their names, generously gave their time and shared useful guidance and thoughtful comments to improve our work. Additionally, Susan G Clark, Thomas Baker, Berthenia Crocker, Chris Floyd, Terry Dugas, Michelle Hoffman, Torry Sanders, and Sherry Smith also provided valuable assessments and comments of draft documents.