Celebrating Women’s History at Chucalissa

by Mallory Bader

Recently the museum hosted a celebration of Women’s History Month. This event was the first celebration of its kind at the museum. Women’s History Month originated as a national event in 1981 when Congress passed a law that requested the President enact “Women’s History Week.” For the next five years, Congress passed resolutions designating a week in March as Women’s History Week.  In 1987, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9, which designated March as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have issued annual proclamations for Women’s History Month.  (Library of Congress)

The event consisted of a short lecture by Dr. Nicole Thompson on the role of Native American Culture today. Dr. Thompson (Menominee/Mohican) is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the University of Memphis.  She spoke on various roles and perceptions of Native American women throughout history, reflected on her personal experiences as a Native American woman, and shared stories from her childhood.  For example, she discussed her family’s experience in boarding schools in the early 1900’s.  This was a difficult time for Native American women, and Thompson discussed different acts of empowerment and cultural preservation.

After Dr. Thompson’s lecture we showed the award winning film Miss Navajo. This film follows Crystal Frazier and other contestants in the Miss Navajo pageant. Not only must contestants exhibit the typical characteristics of pageant contestants, but they must answer questions in Navajo and demonstrate proficiency in traditional tasks such as sheep butchering. Filmmaker Billy Luther’s mother was crowned Miss Navajo in 1966, and he is able to offer an inside perspective into the significance of this contest and the role of Miss Navajo in the preservation of Navajo cultural heritage.

Helen Thompson, former interpreter at the C.H. Nash Museum

Helen Thompson, former interpreter at the C.H. Nash Museum

From there, our own education coordinator Samantha Gibbs led a tour of the museum and highlighted the Native American women who have worked here as interpreters. She also discussed the museum’s move towards increased engagement with Native American communities. This engagement led to the creation of two exhibits, one on Choctaw cultural heritage and one of Chickasaw cultural heritage, both created by representatives from those groups.

I think that this event represents a step forward in the Chucalissa’s goal to be more inclusive of various perspectives and provide quality educational programming to the general public.  We look forward to hosting more events such as this in the future! For more information on our Celebrating Women’s History event, or other special events at Chucalissa, visit our website at www.memphis.edu/chucalissa.

About C.H. Nash Museum

The mission of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a division of the University of Memphis, is to protect and interpret the Chucalissa archaeological site’s cultural and natural environments, and to provide the University Community and the Public with exceptional educational, participatory, and research opportunities on the landscape’s past and present Native American and traditional cultures.
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