VERMILLION, S.D. – Nick Kennedy, a history and Native American studies sophomore and Honors student at the University of South Dakota, is one of five undergraduate college students this summer participating remotely in the Native American Undergraduate Museum Fellowship at the Minnesota Historical Society located in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Kennedy is taking part in the fellowship from his home in Lawrence, Kansas, due to the pandemic. During the final week of the 10-week program, however, participants will gather at the Minnesota History Center. The fellowship includes three weeks of seminars and seven weeks of an internship at the historical society, and fellows must apply to the competitive program and be affiliated with an Indigenous community. Kennedy is affiliated with the Amskapi Pikuni (Blackfeet) and Salish-Kootenai (Flathead) tribes.
In the first three weeks of the fellowship, Kennedy participated in seminars that focused on the day-to-day workings of museums and the values and practices that inform public history, museum and tribal historic preservation institutions. Kennedy said the fellowship has exposed him to the museum field as well as to the historic and current state of Native American and museum relations.
“The relationship between Native peoples and the museum world is definitely changing,” Kennedy said. For example, he and fellow participants heard from guest speakers such as Tribal Historic Preservation Officers who work on behalf of Native American tribes through the National Park Service to preserve Indigenous cultural and historical assets. “In the past, tribal communities and museums have had a bad relationship due to colonization and archaeologists digging up Native American remains and taking objects into their collections,” he said. “We learned that the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and archaeologists are now working together more effectively.”
Kennedy also learned about the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a federal law enacted in 1990 known as NAGPRA. This law identifies the criteria under which Native tribes could reclaim burial remains and objects deemed to have special sacred or cultural value. “Before this fellowship, I was interested in native representation in law, but I have extended my interest into the cultural aspects such as NAGPRA as well.”
In the seven-week internship portion of the program, Kennedy is working with society staff as a library research fellow, where one of his responsibilities is to update research guides for Native American collections at the museum. His fellowship ends in early August.