The Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Cultural Heritage Center received recognition as one of the top 10 Model Museum/Cultural Centers by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums in 2020. The CHC also won numerous Oklahoma Museum Association awards in 2021 on top of the national accolade.
“I am very honored when we receive awards like these because we try to be innovative,” said Dr. Kelli Mosteller, Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Cultural Heritage Center director. “We try to always think about what the Tribal citizen wants to see first and foremost, and then we figure out the reverse engineering about how to make it happen. When we are recognized on the state or national level for how we’ve chosen to do that, I always feel very humbled.”
ATALM Top 10
The Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums’ charge includes preserving and advancing Indigenous languages, history, culture and lifeways. A national review panel selected the heritage center for the organization’s most prestigious award in 2020. As part of the recognition, the CHC serves as a case study and inspiration for other Native individuals and tribal communities seeking to build impactful museums and cultural centers.
“It’s definitely a feather in our cap for all of us at the Cultural Heritage Center,” Dr. Mosteller said. “This recognizes that we are setting the bar — we are an example of what a lot of tribes are wanting and functionally able to put together. So I was thrilled when they picked us.”
The CHC will work with ATALM to help others establish and grow their museums or heritage centers by providing training and hands-on experience. Much of this will build on the CHC’s behind-the-scenes work, including cataloging, secure storage, decision making, and gallery and exhibit design. While original plans included collaborating throughout the last year, the coronavirus pandemic has delayed the CHC’s ability to share its best practices.
“It is meant for people to go out and see on the ground how it can be done,” she said. “We feel fairly confident that even if its years down the road, when they are ready to send people out and look at how tribal museums can and should be run, we will be able to partner in that capacity.”
The CHC received three awards during Oklahoma Museum Association’s 2021 conference, including Promotional Piece, Exhibit and Special Projects.
“The awards program honors the excellence and quality of projects accomplished by OMA members as well as dedicated individuals whose contributions positively impact Oklahoma museums and the museum profession,” according to the OMA.
In spring 2021, the CHC released its all-new website created and implemented by hardworking employees from across the Nation. OMA recognized potawatomiheritage.com for its Promotional Piece Award.
“The website was definitely a multi-year labor of love,” Dr. Mosteller said. “To see the website be rewarded by not only its incredible use by Tribal members but also by an association like OMA that we really respect, it’s really nice to see that.”
CHC staff spent years digitizing archives, information, documents, videos and more to make a user-friendly, educational resource that connects CPN tribal members and the public to the Nation and its history. Users can take a virtual tour of the CHC’s galleries, conduct research through the encyclopedia, digital archives and manuscripts as well as learn about Potawatomi family heritage, build family trees and interact with relatives through Mezodanek and more.
“All of the resources are right there with one dropdown — one click. You can see years and years of work processing the vast collections we have here,” Dr. Mosteller said.
The Potawatomi have a long-standing tradition of service, and Wédasé: The Stronghearted gallery and exhibits highlight the stories of what it means to be a Potawatomi Wédasé (warrior). Because of this, the OMA acknowledged it for its 2021 Exhibit Award.
“Wédasé illustrates that service members — warriors — are a special group of people that have a long tradition in protecting what’s important to their communities,” said Blake Norton, curator. “From defending against occupying tribes and colonization in the past, to thwarting global terrorism today, our military has always sacrificed for the good of the people. The importance of our wédasé and the pride that comes with that title is still very much alive today.”
Cases throughout the heritage center’s Long Room feature uniforms, memorabilia and personal items donated by CPN veterans.
“Development included diligent research, writing and design by staff, but more importantly, open communication with Tribal veterans and their families to understand the true experiences of our service members,” he said. “Wédasé is meant to honor our veterans and warriors, while educating on the importance of these individuals on a tribal, national and world stage. Our veteran community has been very supportive in our efforts to the memorial.”
Each Citizen Potawatomi received an allotment within the Nation’s original 900-square-mile reservation in present-day Oklahoma in 1872 or 1887. The searchable, interactive allotment map, available in person and online, provides details on Tribal members, land plots and cemetery information and earned the OMA’s Special Projects Award.
“To be able to go back and frame that snapshot of our history of how we made the transition down here and what this space looked like when it was just the Potawatomi and the Absentee Shawnee, I think that’s really important,” Dr. Mosteller said. “We put in a lot of work breaking apart the original map, assigning the allottee to it, finding images of them, knowing where they’re buried — it’s a good place to start if you don’t know much about your family history.”
The map provides information on each location as well as a QR code that connects directly to smartphone navigation by simply using the camera to scan the code.
“Being able to see your family’s original allotment and where they made their home, it connects the family history and stories to the tangible,” she said.
While Dr. Mosteller is thankful for the recent recognition, she stressed that hardworking staff and collaboration with departments across the Nation made the accomplishments possible.
“They come in day in, day out, with their noses to the grindstone and get it done,” Dr. Mosteller said. “We have a fraction of the staff that a lot of institutions who are putting out the kind of content we’re putting out. What our staff does every day matters. For example, it’s not just scanning a document — it’s connecting that and securing that piece of history with the Tribe today and for generations to come.”
Learn more about the Cultural Heritage Center’s awards at potawatomiheritage.com.