Learning more than history at Plimoth

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It may be 2008, but staff members at Plimoth Plantation's Wampanoag Homesite regularly have to ask little boys to stop war-whooping and little girls to remove costume feathered headdresses and beaded dresses brought from home.

Parents must be admonished for making jokey greetings like "How" or calling the performers "Chief," "Squaw," or "Indian." Just last week, an adult chaperone of a school group had to be corrected for asking Tim Turner, a staff interpreter who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, where he bought his alcohol.

"I told him straight out that wasn't appropriate, especially not in front of children," said Turner, who wore traditional native dress of breechcloth, moccasins, and skunk pelt while talking to tour groups last week. "I don't have a problem making people feel stupid if that's what's necessary."

Visitors' gaffes - deliberate or accidental - are not laughed off or ignored here, especially during Thanksgiving season, when 70,000 visitors are expected during the month of November. Confrontation and reeducation is a near-daily chore at one of the state's top tourist attrac tions for many of the homesite's approximately 15 staff members all of whom are Native American, or as they prefer to be called, Native people.

Plimoth Plantation now makes these requests for "cultural sensitivity" explicit in five languages on its website, and a main thrust of the revamped orientation film watched by the nearly 400,000 guests who tour the site, and the nearby Mayflower II, each year.
Read entire article at Boston Globe

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Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs - 11/25/2008

There's more to the article. And the readers' comments are fun, too.

See: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2008/11/24/learning_more_than_history_at_plimoth/

From the article:
"It's a delicate balance between education and visitor relations, said Linda Coombs, associate director of the museum's Wampanoag Indigenous Program. Recently, she asked a 9-year-old girl who arrived in a homemade beaded costume to remove the garment before visiting the homesite, reducing the child to tears and upsetting her mother.

"It was hard, because the last thing on this girl's mind was giving offense; she was trying to 'honor the Indians,' " said Coombs, a 30-year veteran of Plimoth Plantation and a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag community of Martha's Vineyard. "I did what I had to do for the sake of my staff, and correcting the stereotype." Such costumes are not tolerated because Native people find them to be a mockery of traditional dress. "We're here to explain how people feel. It makes people feel made fun of," Coombs said.

The awkward situation was salvaged by another cultural gesture, said Coombs. "I said to her, 'I understand you are giving up something that is important to you, so I'd like to give you a gift.' " She presented the girl with a beaded necklace from the gift shop to represent their coming to an understanding."