Citizen Potawatomi Nation cut the ribbon for its first cultural heritage center in January 2006 and it has been growing, changing and adapting to challenges ever since. Before the current structure was built 11 years ago, there was a museum and gift shop at the CHC’s present location, but tribal members and staff have spent years planning and learning what people want in a cultural heritage center.
“There is a difference between a museum and a cultural heritage center,” CHC Director Kelli Mosteller, Ph.D., said. “We are a museum in the sense that we are here to protect, preserve and display our cultural artifacts for the public and for tribal members, but we are a cultural heritage center because of everything else that goes along with it. We are here to, not only preserve the objects themselves, but the histories, stories and family lineage behind these objects.”
The heritage center is a place for people to learn about their culture and lineage, but also leave a little bit of their culture and history. A program called the Tribal Heritage Project is designed to allow people to tell stories on camera about their grandparents and the stories passed down through family histories, but also about themselves. One day, they are likely to have children and grandchildren who will be interested in learning more about what was important to them.
There are several departments and programs that make up the CHC, including the Potawatomi language department, tribal enrollment, Tribal Heritage Productions, grants, the Tribal Historic Preservation Office and Rekindling 7 Generations, which is an after school program for Native youth in south Pottawatomie County. The cultural resources team is made up of the gift shop, banquet facility and museum staff, including the 3D collections manager, curator, digitizing and 2D archives staff.
Mosteller told the Hownikan that a cultural heritage center is not only concerned with preserving things from the past, but also perpetuating the history and the story of the Potawatomi people as they move into the future.
“As a Native American tribe, without a distinct culture and our history, we lose the essence of who we are as a people,” said Mosteller. “Having the CHC here to preserve and protect our history that makes us uniquely CPN is important. Allowing members to have a home base where they can come back and get to know other tribal members gives them the opportunity to feel more connected to their tribe and its culture and carry it on to the next generation. We are proud of the strides that we’ve made at the CHC.”
Looking toward the future, 2017 will be a big year for the heritage center staff. They have been working diligently to reimagine and reconfigure the museum floor to tell the story of the Potawatomi people.
“With hard work, community input and a few grants, we were able to put together a new exhibit that I think people are going to love,” Mosteller said. “In 2017, there is going to be a mad rush of activity. Right now we are finishing two of our 11 exhibits and all exhibits will be complete by our anniversary next year – January 6, 2018.”
Tribal members will be able to see the progress being made during Family Reunion Festival 2017 in June. At this time, heritage center staff will facilitate tours and visitors will be able to view a traveling exhibit featuring Native American veterans from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. For more information, please visit www.potawatomiheritage.org.