WASHINGTON -- Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native Zach Nelson has spent the past few months in the nation’s capital interning at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in the anthropology department. He specifically works in the recovering voices program that aims to revitalize, support and document endangered indigenous languages and knowledge.
Nelson said he always knew he wanted to work for the Smithsonian after visiting and realizing it’s a place of learning and research. He has enjoyed being able to explore objects that bring back stories and knowledge from past eras.
“My favorite part of my internship thus far has been visiting the museum archives and collections center,” said Nelson. “It is so extensive and has such beautiful artifacts. I find it really rewarding when we are able to visit pieces accompanied by persons that have a cultural connection or ancestral tie to the artifacts.”
Nelson’s mentor at the Smithsonian, Judith Andrews, program assistant for recovering voices, has helped Nelson grow through her knowledge of cultural sensitivity and the day-to-day operation of the Smithsonian from a federal level.
He’s currently working with one of his favorite pieces, a 19th century Tsimshian totem pole from the Pacific Northwest. Nelson said he enjoys learning about the culture of the totem pole that extends up a staircase.
“I am working on data management for one of our group visits from British Columbia and find it really interesting to listen and read their stories, history and knowledge of (the Tsimshian totem pole),” said Nelson. “I really grew to admire the artistic convention and skill needed to create these huge pieces, they are able to convey a lot of information about cultural legends, stories and history.”
Nelson will graduate from USD this spring with his bachelor of arts in anthropology and Spanish with a minor in art. His internship ends at the end of May, but he plans to apply for entry level positions and research fellowships with the Smithsonian or to other full-time positions in the Washington area.