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Co-curating Tribal Culture: Sacred Earth Exhibition

San Bernardino County, CA
Program Year: 2019

“Sacred Earth” opened at the San Bernardino County Museum in 2017, presenting extraordinary Serrano artifacts and the story of the people. The museum sought to co-author the story, an innovative practice in museums, to acknowledge the tribal voice as an equal partner in the historical interpretation. The San Bernardino County Museum stewards a significant collection of Native American artifacts, derived primarily from the indigenous Serrano people. Sacred Earth was collaboratively developed in partnership with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and interprets the early migration of the indigenous Serrano and the development of their culture over time, spanning to the current day, to provide visitors with the clear understanding that this is a contemporary, thriving culture. Interpretation of these collections, like that of most museums across the country, were traditionally left to the anthropologist professional, often without significant or any input from the tribal community. The story of these artifacts was essentially told through an academic, curator-centered lens. This left an outdated impression on museum visitors, that the cultures were “of the past’” with no contemporary voice or hint that the tribes were currently and firmly embedded in the community. In contrast, Sacred Earth was developed to proactively engage tribal culture and history to produce a more sensitive, authentic, and relevant exhibit experience for our visitors.

Ms. Melissa Russo
Museum Director