I Grew Up in a Museum
I grew up in a museum. My childhood games included playing receptionist at the front desk, cashier at the museum gift store, and tour guide throughout the exhibits. Art was, and still is, a large part of my life.
Due to being raised in a museum, I was very knowledgeable about where I come from as a Native American person. At the age of 5 I could recite the definition of genocide and explain to people the history of California and its first actions to eliminate Native Americans as a state. My knowledge of the events that are commonly hidden from textbooks did not make me the popular kid in school. I was picked on, not only by kids, but by teachers. I was a know-it-all and viewed by my teachers as a challenge. My teachers commonly told me that “I didn’t know what I was saying” or “I didn’t look like an Indian, therefore I wasn’t one.” My mom, the executive director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, recognized that the problems Native children face today are not different from the ones that she faced as a child. To combat the misinformation and stereotypes surrounding our people, she turned to the arts.
My mom put out a call for Native American children to come to our museum and participate in a media arts camp. We would make videos and animations about who we are as Native people and educate people about our history. Our group of 9 through 16 year olds became the first Tribal Youth Ambassadors.
As the years went by, we’ve been able to advocate for our people and our culture through short films, theater, paintings, basketry, audio, computer mapping, and even the culinary arts. Through art of all mediums, I was able to communicate to people that I do not live in a tipi or wear a headdress. I am not a savage, injun, or redskin. I am a Native American and a person that deserves respect as all people deserve.
Art not only helped me convey messages to the public, but it also helped me discover my identity as a Native American person. By utilizing the arts, we, as youth, can voice our opinion that may not otherwise be heard. As children, we are sometimes dismissed for our “lack of experience in life.” Through art we are given the confidence to refuse dismissal. We refuse to be ignored because we are the future. We deserve a say in the decisions that impact our life. We, as Generation Z, will be left with the problems of the generations before us, and we will be looked at to solve them.
My message to older generations is to prepare us, your youth, and give us the tools to fight global warming, fix the education system, and bring light to the genocide that still exists today through the form of denial. Give children access to art in the hope that they are able to define their identity and communicate messages of importance. Given the tools to succeed, youth, with art of all forms, will change the world and broaden the lens that society sees through.