Smithsonian Goes Native

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That's all we need, more half-breeds in the world," a caustic man muttered to my father after hearing about the forthcoming birth of my oldest sister. My father has related acerbic diatribes like this to me throughout my life, not to engender a sense of martyrdom or victimization, but rather to reinforce in his children the fact that our heritage and identities were of consequence and not to be taken for granted or with indifference.

I remember my father coming home from work one day when I was nine. With righteous indignation, he delivered a brief discourse I know was a product of some comment he'd heard that day. "You have nothing to be ashamed about; you should be proud of who you are, of where you have come from. Your ancestors were strong on both sides." He referred to my own mother's strong Navajo roots as well as to his ancestry and mine. His mother was of Mormon pioneer stock, primarily of Western European descent, and his father was a Jewish cosmopolitan born in South Africa and raised in Buenos Aires before immigrating to the U.S. My experiences have taught me that stinging sentiments motivating such defensiveness from my father emanate not only from "white folks"; in fact, the man who made the aforementioned comment was a fullblooded member of my own tribe.

This multicultural world in which we live is both a blessing and a curse to me. How are we to delineate race and culture in a world growing increasingly integrated each day, and where do I fit in? This is the quandary of more than 6.8 million Americans who now self-identify as "multiracial."

Recently, I was able to attend the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian during the fall equinox, in September 2004. The museum is the latest edition to the national museums. Its celebration presented me with an opportunity that invited introspection into my own culture, identity, and experience. The Smithsonian was going native - and right next door to the U.S. Capitol, at that.

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Rachel Novak, a graduate from Oregon State University in Environmental Science, served with Americorps as a Watershed Education and Outreach Specialist in Sweet Home, Oregon. With a strong interest in water resources, she has also worked with water and conservation issues in the highlands of Ecuador, Bolivia, and in her Navajo Nation home, where she now resides in Arizona. During this past year she has worked in with the Anasazi Foundation in a Wilderness Therapy program for young people, and will be attending graduate school at the University of Arizona in the Master of Science program with an emphasis in Geo-Sciences beginning this fall.


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