This week in Washington D.C. our research group took a morning off of talks to hit D.C. museums. We were pleased to find children everywhere!
In the National Museum of the American Indian, we learned about how children are at the center of Native American culture and activism.
These totem poles by Rick Bartow stand outside NMIA. The horizontal patterns on the poles’ bases symbolize “the flow of knowledge and inheritance”.
Inside the museum, we saw a great exhibit on children, which focused on children’s play and learning. This included making small tipis, playing with dolls, bows and arrows, and other, child-sized subsistence material culture.
We also learned of the impact of boarding school on Native communities, whose primary purpose was to assimilate Native children. In these schools, children were forbidden from speaking their native languages, with the explicit intent to separate children from their native culture and heritage.
However, children were also at the center of activism. For example, in 1978, hundred of American Indian activists and allies walked from San Fransisco to D.C. to protest threats to tribal land. Pictured here are children playing in front of a tipi erected at the Washington Monument at the end of this five month long protest.
This action, and many others as part of the Red Power movement paved the way for the Indian Child Welfare Act, in which tribal governments now have a central role in placing children in “foster care or in adoptive homes which reflect Indian culture.” These measures actively ensure that Native American culture and identity can be transmitted from generation to generation.
We also visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, whose exhibit on Human Origins also heavily featured children and child development throughout human evolution. The exhibit focused on how environmental change changed humans, and on how humans are now changing the environment, included the extended juvenility so often mentioned as a key feature for modern human life history. Pictured here is a bronze statue in the Human Origins exhibit, which shows a Neanderthal toddler watching his mother poke holes in a hide with an awl. This statue clearly demonstrates one of the various ways in which children, beyond modern humans, learned to make material culture.
We absolutely loved our time in D.C., and can’t wait to tell you all about the various ways these museums and the talks we attended at the AAA meeting inspired us. We’ve come up with many more projects we are looking forward to beginning, so stay tuned for more exciting research on the pasts, presents and futures of forager children!