Indigenous geography and place-based intangible cultural heritage

Authored by: R.D.K. Herman

The Routledge Companion to Intangible Cultural Heritage

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138860551
eBook ISBN: 9781315716404
Adobe ISBN: 9781317506898


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In 1999, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) embarked on a project it called Geografía Indígena/Indigenous Geography. The museum, founded in 1989 as a ‘living memorial to Native Americans and their traditions’, 1 has sought to present the voices of contemporary Native peoples and to foster cultural preservation and perpetuation among Native communities. The Geografía Indígena project derived from two consultations between the museum’s community services staff and American Indian educators between 1998–1999. NMAI staff members were asking these Native educators, ‘If there were one project that we could do for you, what would it be?’ The educators did not know, but they knew what it had to include: a focus on the land, since that is the center of the culture; a language component, since that is the transmitter of culture; a community-based focus, linking education to the real experience of their Native students; and an engagement with computers and the Internet, because students were seeing a disjuncture between traditional culture and modern technology, as well as perceiving an either/or relationship between the two. Geografía Indígena thus set out to produce a portfolio of community-focused websites using oral data gathered from specific communities, combined with maps, images, sound, and video, in a way that would embody the Indigenous understanding of place and environment.

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