USF's Museum Blog

Reclaiming Culture: From Wind River to San Francisco

by Monica Villavicencio

Jordan Dresser

Jordan Dresser

Sometimes following your calling means venturing so far outside your comfort zone that you’ll ache with homesickness.

That was the choice for museum studies student Jordan Dresser MA ’15. But choosing a purpose-fueled future over the serenity of home was the only choice that made sense.

Dresser is from the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, a 3,500-square-mile-expanse of mountains and prairie. The reservation is home to two tribes, the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone, and it’s a place that Dresser, who is a member of both, loves with a kind of ferocity that’s made it hard to be away.

Telling Native Americans’ story

wind_riverThat love led him to USF’s master’s program in Museum Studies. Dresser’s mission is to tell the story of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone, and he believes a good museum can and should do that. He’s here to learn how, but the why is crystal clear. For generations, Native Americans have lived under twin threats: forced relocation and assimilation. Native objects have been dug up from burial grounds, stolen, and sold to museums around the country; and native people’s languages have slowly been taken from them. In Dresser’s own community, only about 200 speakers of Arapaho remain.

Finn Snyder (1915 - 2015) Jordan's Shoshone grandfather: an elder who taught him the value of hard work.

Finn Snyder (1915 – 2015), Jordan’s Shoshone grandfather: an elder who taught him the value of hard work.

Dresser realized that the wisdom of the elders and their cultural heritage needed to be preserved. “We have information and knowledge from our elders, which is great and is something that we should all value, but at the same time it’s up to our generation to start doing things to save our culture,” Dresser says.

So, he helped create the Northern Arapaho Experience, a cultural room in his local casino that displays artifacts, photographs, and costumes.

Part of PBS documentary

And he and other tribes members were part of a team that created the Wind River Virtual Museum, a digital archive featuring photos and videos of Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone artifacts housed in The Field Museum’s collection in Chicago. The story of how the digital museum was created is the focus of the PBS documentary Lived History: The Story of the Wind River Virtual Museum.

Now, PBS has completed filming a second documentary, this one about Dresser’s journey to USF and the creation of the Northern Arapaho Experience room. The film is being edited. In it, Dresser talks about bringing more objects home and expanding the cultural room. To do that, he’s come to USF to learn about artifact preservation and museum curation, collections care, and best practices.

Listen to Jordan describe his journey in his own words by clicking here.

Bringing knowledge back to the reservation

“When I told people back home about what I was doing, everybody’s reaction was, ‘That’s what we need. We need someone who can go and get this knowledge and come back.’ So it’s a lot of pressure,” Dresser says. “But it’s the same with natives everywhere. The hope is that we all can get educated and bring that knowledge back. It’s about independence and doing things for ourselves.”

Click here to see the original story about Jordan

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