Indian Country Today

As the country navigates its way through this COVID-19 pandemic, some states are starting to reopen non-essential businesses such as museums. 

How have museums fared in this pandemic? Are they getting federal relief aid? Or, are they struggling to stay afloat? 

According to the National Congress of American Indians, there are around 236 tribal museums in the country. 

Our guest today is Roberta "Bobbie" Conner. She is the director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Oregon. It was established in 1998.

Here are some of her comments:  

"We've closed pursuant to our incident command and public health authority orders on March 16. And we are still closed to the public."

"We have applied for a number of small grants to offset, not only our revenue losses, but other kinds of changes that we're undergoing, one of which is a real challenge for us, has been the digital divide."

"Broadband access on this reservation is an issue. We love our canyons and our valleys but they have limited connectivity."

“The digital divide is not only broadband access but having an actual laptop. [This is] one of the reasons we're applying for grant support from a number of sources.”

“We expect that we will be reopening in July. We need to set that but that's going to depend on our supply of PPE and it's going to depend on our ability to have everything in place that keeps our customers and our staff safe.”

“The two things that have been operational, have been the museum stores, ecommerce site and our ability to communicate with our public through social media websites.”

“We will encourage guests with disposable mask distribution to wear masks. We will not require it. Our Wild Horse Resort and Casino is requiring masks in the casino property but we will not require it in the museum. We will encourage it and we will be monitoring social and physical distancing. We will be monitoring the zones for the reduced occupancy loads. And we'll certainly be monitoring temperatures as people enter the facility with a thermal imaging set up.”

‘We deal with issues that are kind of confrontational or conflict based that has some tension associated with them fairly often. So, I think our staff is good at keeping a sense of humor, hopefully staying calm and making sure that our customers know that we're here to serve them.”

“Well, one of the things that we have when we reopened, we have a traveling exhibit that will be here only through the end of the month of July about bison, which is important to us.”

“We also hope to offer audio tours to visitors that don't require in person contact. So, using their smartphones or using handheld devices to allow them to have a tour that is with our interpretation audibly but not with a staff person present.”

“We really want to keep our staff safe. The majority of our staff are tribal members either of our tribe or of other federally recognized tribes. And we have a number of people who are vulnerable to COVID because of conditions that they already have. And so we want to make sure that we keep people safe.”

“We have had up until yesterday zero cases on the Umatilla Reservation. And we have one case now as of yesterday of a tribal resident. Um, but we're hoping to minimize the impact of COVID and continue to keep our people safe, including our employees by operating in a heightened awareness now and throughout the year.

“One of the precautions our tribe took was to advise people who operate community sweat houses, to please not conduct sweats because of the transmission through microbes in hot environments.”

“Certainly people who gather foods, hunting, fishing, digging roots have been doing that throughout the closure, but we are limited in the number of people that can gather for funerals and ceremonies, and that has been challenging for our community.”

“We're watching the phases for reopening with both of those states. And we're watching the numbers and the statistics for both of those states in all of the counties that surround our reservation.”

“In addition to that, one of the things you asked about in the future, we hope to do a pandemic exhibit. Our tribe was afflicted with the pandemic.”

“I can say as a child living here, I witnessed the abuse of tribal people being arrested by local policemen. I am very moved by what's happening in the Black Lives Matter movement.”

The consequences are that we have a long way to go to educate non-Indian publics about our history and about the abuse and oppression and colonialism consequences.”

“One of the reasons the cultural Institute was founded, was to help tell an accurate story of our peoples.”

“I would encourage all of Indian Country to cherish and treasure and value that, which is most important to us. And those are our stories, our tribal stories.”

“Often people think that artifacts are the most important things in museums, but they're not. It's the stories of the people, the stories of the people who made the objects, the stories of the people who took care of the objects, the story of the people who use the objects.”

“Our culture is very much alive and we want to keep it alive, we have to keep our stories alive.”

Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.

The anchor and executive producer of the newscast is Patty Talahongva.