Bentonville’s Native museum is ‘hidden treasure’
Museum of Native American History Director Charlotte Buchanan-Yale discusses a Cherokee exhibit featuring a wooden booger mask, moccasins and a pair of blowguns at the Bentonville, Arkansas, museum. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Artwork from and about the Native people from the Mississippian Period is shown in the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, Arkansas. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Museum of Native American History board Chairman David Bogle, a Cherokee Nation citizen, explains the history behind an Osage woman’s wedding outfit on display in the museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Arrowheads and other points from various locations and time periods are on display in the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, Arkansas. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
An effigy teapot from the period A.D. 1500 to A.D. 1700 is on display in the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, Arkansas. The “Crouching Fawn” was found at the Lipsky Site in Lee County, Arkansas. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BENTONVILLE, Ark. – A “hidden treasure” of Native American history and art in a Bentonville neighborhood is becoming better known as the museum forms partnerships and reaches more Native tribes.
The Museum of Native American History has been around for 12 years and holds up to 18,000 years of Native people’s history. The exhibits are in chronological order, starting with the early Paleo-Indian Period and moving through the Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian Periods and ending with the Historic Period, or post-European contact.
“It is my honor to wear many hats at the Museum of Native American History. We are known as a hidden treasure, and I work with an incredible, smart, small staff to not be a hidden treasure anymore,” MONAH Director Charlotte Buchanan-Yale said.
She said the museum partners with the nearby Crystal Bridges Museum and other museums, as well as with tribes, including the Cherokee Nation. The MONAH will host its annual Native American Cultural Symposium June 16-17.
“We try to build on those small successes. We had Gayle Ross (Cherokee storyteller) come as part of the symposium last year. She had little girls mesmerized,” Buchanan-Yale said.
Recently, the museum hosted Cherokee basket maker Matt Anderson. She said reservations for the class filled up in 45 minutes.
The museum holds one of the largest and most diverse displays of stone tools and arrowheads, as well as one of the finest collections of pottery from Central America and South America and the Southeastern United States. It features rare treasures from Cherokee, Apache, Osage and other tribal heritages.
A Cherokee booger mask left on the Trail of Tears, a pair of early moccasins and Cherokee blowguns from North Carolina are also on display.
MONAH board Chairman David Bogle, a CN citizen, said the museum has been in its location at 202 S. O St. since 2008. Previous to that, it was in a smaller location.
“We had a smaller location closer to downtown Bentonville that we opened up in 2006, but we outgrew it immediately,” Bogle said. “This (museum) really started from a collection at my house. People would come to my house and view the collection.”
He said an important mission of MONAH is to teach Native history.
“Most importantly we’re a history museum. Most of it is not taught in schools. Very few of us grew up with that knowledge,” he said. “Just as important, we’re an art museum, and so we draw that fine line of using very special pieces of art to tell the story – the story of 16,000 to 18,000 years of history.”
Bogle said he believes most people visit expecting to see war bonnets, pipes, beaded vests and similar items made by Plains tribes.
“My goal here is to teach pre-historic times, so that by the time that people go through our museum they have experienced 16,000 years of history,” he said. “So, once they get to the historic time period, they’ve got a base. They’ve got substance that lets them know what it took for this country to get to that part, that part of Indian history that we see on TV.”
He said one of the things shown in the Historic Period is “the good and the bad” changes that occurred after European contact. The pre-Historic and Historic periods are separated by a teepee that visitors walk through. Items in the pre-Historic part are mostly stone because those items did not decay like items made of wood or leather. Bogle said items in the Woodland and Mississippian Periods are “more complete items” like pottery.
“The pottery that was made in Arkansas was some of the best made in the country. The Caddo, the Quapaw, the Tunica, the tribes of the Mississippians in northeast Arkansas all did fabulous, fabulous pieces, and it’s one of my favorite galleries,” he said. “I work hard at finding items that help tell the story. As we acquire pieces we try to find things that fill in gaps in history, so it’s easier to understand how this block happened, and then this block happened because of this and this happened because of this, so the time table is easier to understand.”
MONAH partners with the University of Arkansas to display some of the university’s Native historic and art pieces.
Bogle said the museum currently has 14,000 square feet of space after three major expansions, but the museum has “maxed out” on space again. Special pieces include winter count robes. Drawings on the robes tell the history of that particular tribe. A favorite display for visitors, Bogle said, are the head pots made by Mississippian tribes in northeast Arkansas.
“Our goal here is to teach diversification, to show how many tribes there were across this country, to show how different they were, how they camped, the clothing, all of the different things, so that we can dispel that mental picture that we automatically get (of Native people). So, that’s one of our biggest goals here,” he said.
The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Self-guided audio tours are available and admission is free. Call 479-273-2456 for more information.