Some of you might have already heard, but it is worth repeating! Roberta “Bobbie” Conner is the incoming Chair of Board of Trustees of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. She has been on the Board since 2008, co-facilitated a Tribal museum directors meeting at NMAI in January, and will chair her first Trustees meeting February 9 and 10 in Washington D.C.
I have known Bobbie primarily through working on the Nez Perce Homeland project in Wallowa, where she and I are still board members. But she also gave a lecture on “Lewis and Clark through Indian Eyes” at Fishtrap, and she was in fact one of the writers in Alvin’s last book, the one he and Marc Jaffe edited called Lewis and Clark through Indian Eyes. And I had the great good fortune to work with Bobbie, Alvin, Cliff Trafzer, other historians and Tribal elders and editor Jennifer Carson on Wiyaxayxt / Wiyaakaaawn / As Days Go by: Our History, Our Land, Our People: the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla.
I’ll put in a plug for that book while I’m at it. Each section paired an elder with a recognized historian, and each section had an outside reviewer. My role was as reviewer, but meeting with the “team” of elders and historians to discuss the project in its beginnings, and meeting again to review progress were privileged experiences. The project started in 2000–largely, I am sure, because of Bobbie’s vision and hard work–and the book was published by the University of Washington Press in 2006.
Bobbie is Cayuse, Umatilla and Nez Perce and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla. Her maternal great grandparents were from the Columbia and Snake Rivers and their tributaries. She is a graduate of Pendleton High School, the University of Oregon, and Willamette University’s Graduate School of Management. She left a fast-rising career at the U.S. Small Business Administration–among other positions, she directed the Sacramento District—to become the director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in April 1998. (And if you have not visited that marvelous place, please put it on your must see list. Check the web site at http://Tamastslikt.com/ .)
Of course what completes this circle is that Alvin was the founding board chair at NMAI. Some of that tale is told in A Walk Towards Oregon, how it started with the Heye Museum in New York City, and went through twists and turns that landed the greatest collection of indigenous American artifacts—the Heye collection is said to have numbered a million such—on the Mall in Washington D.C. You can feel Alvin’s hand in the way the museum is a living thing, with history from the Indian point of view and contemporary portrayals of Tribal culture and activities. Visit it if you are ever in the District. I see by my emails that a celebration of chocolate, one of the West’s great contributions to world food and culture, is in the works this February.
And congratulations of course to Bobbie for this well deserved honor. And good luck in the job!