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Rebecca Riall
First Nations Educational and Cultural Center

Judith A. Kirk
Mathers Museum of World Cultures

George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Tuesday, November 28, 2006

American Indian groups and Mathers Museum at IU celebrate Native Americans' heritage

Nov. 28, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Advocacy groups for American Indians at Indiana University and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures are working together to promote better understanding of American Indians through educational outreach and public events through Dec. 20.

Meredith Johnson, a graduate student in anthropology at IU Bloomington and a member of the Chickasaw Nation, said November traditionally has been considered Native American Heritage Month. Many schools, she said, include inaccurate lessons about American Indians.

"Unfortunately, many of the teachings portray our nations, our families as existing in the past and all living in teepees," Johnson said. "They don't always portray us as having very different cultures or as existing today -- not out of malice -- but out of not having better resources."

To address this need, the new First Nations Educational and Cultural Center Working Group, the Native American Graduate Student Association and the Mathers Museum have teamed up to promote better understanding of American Indians through educational outreach and public events. FNECC is an organization of students and community members that formed in May to advocate for an American Indian cultural center on the Bloomington campus.

"For various reasons, our plans for November are running late. However, things have now fallen into place, and we can offer specific events and materials to community members," said FNECC Working Group member Rebecca Riall, a graduate student and member of the Cherokee Tribe of Northeast Alabama.

On Dec. 3, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., the Mathers Museum will host its annual event, "Celebrating Kids and Culture," which will include an emphasis on American Indian life and is provided in collaboration with FNECC. The free family event will feature storytellers and children's games.

Children will be invited to join an activity that breaks down harmful stereotypes about American Indian peoples. To participate, the children are asked to bring in toys or costumes that portray views of Indians as living in the past. They will be given an opportunity to lay to rest "Indian" toys that reinforce stereotypes.

"We wanted to play with the idea that historically American Indians have been objects collected, studied and displayed in museums," Johnson said. "Instead, we're inviting children and their parents to cast off 'Indian' toys to be placed in a display case that explains how harmful cultural stereotypes are to American Indian people."

After December, the toys will be returned to children or, if they like, added to a teaching collection that will be used in talking with schoolchildren about stereotypes.

The Mathers Museum and FNECC have teamed up on other educational tools. "The Mathers has a series of educational kits, which teach about American Indians as having specific cultures," Johnson said. "We also developed a new kit this fall."

"We're very pleased to be able to collaborate on these programs," said Judy Kirk, assistant director of the Mathers Museum. "The collaboration will make for richer experiences for everyone involved."

In addition to educational kits, which teachers can check out for free from the museum, the FNECC working group and the Native American Graduate Student Association (NAGSA) are offering talks in schools.

Riall said presentations about Native Americans will be made in area schools between Nov. 20 and Dec. 20. "We have a panel of graduate students who can speak about things ranging from children's games to history, from art to astronomy," she said.

Area teachers may contact Johnson or Riall at to schedule a presentation on a specific topic, or call the Mathers Museum at or 812-855-6873 for more information.

The Mathers Museum of World Cultures is located at 416 N. Indiana Ave. in Bloomington. The museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting knowledge of the world's cultures, and strives to further understanding of both the diversity of the world's specific cultures and the underlying unity of cultures as a human phenomenon.

The Native American Graduate Student Association was founded in fall 2005 to represent issues specific to graduate-level American Indians, and works closely in coordination with the American Indian Student Association, which includes American Indian students, interested non-Indian students, and faculty.

The First Nations Educational and Cultural Center Working Group advocates for American Indians in higher education, with a focus on developing an American Indian cultural center on the IU Bloomington campus. For the 2006-07 academic year, the FNECC has received programming funding from the Office of the Vice-President for Institutional Development and Student Affairs and the Office of the Provost.