This is the summer of firsts here at the Duncan Cottage Museum and while it can be hard at times, it’s also incredibly exciting to be a part of a fledgling museum’s victories. This summer the DCM has had its first funding from the Metlakatla Indian Community, its first staff, its first complete collection inventory, its first digital catalogue, its first Museum Studies MA candidate intern (moi), and its very first public programming to serve the local community.
Over the week of June 28 – July 2 a visiting professor from New York University came to Metlakatla to conduct a workshop. Dr. Michelle Dent is on an 8 week long trip around Alaska following the footsteps of a woman who lived at the turn of the century named Mary Hart. Hart was a hard-working writer for the the newspaper who became a Special Agent for the US Dept. of the Interior in preparation for the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle, WA. She spent the year before the fair traveling around to rural Alaskan communities helping to form woman’s auxiliaries. And, you guessed it, Hart came to Metlakatla!
So, Michelle came bearing loads of documents (mainly correspondences) and some images regarding the women of Metlakatla’s auxiliary in 1907-1909 to teach a four day workshop in the evenings. We had 25 people sign up to be a part of the workshop, 17 people showed up on the first day, and the following three days 9 loyal museum advocates took part each night in this wonderful workshop.
It’s not often that a workshop on history is so immediately personal to all of the participants. But here, where most people can trace their ancestry right back to the original pioneering Tsimishians who came to this island in 1887, this workshop was deeply relevant and intensely emotional. Each night as the participants were given more and more documents bearing the names of their ancestors, the discussion ranged from childhood memories of education here, to putting up fish with elders, to William Duncan’s legacy in this community. What an incredible thing to be a part of. The laughter, energy, and thoughtful contributions of each participant brought this musty old place to life for the first time in a VERY long time reminding me of the vital role museums play in our communities.