Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian: Americans Exhibit


Indians are less than 1 percent of the population, yet images and names of Indians are everywhere. Many images and icons that most of us take for granted are in fact cultural staples that represent things, people or moments held sacred in the spirituality, leadership, or everyday lives of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. As a property recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, we attempt to convey our history in a manner that is sensitive to the important issue of cultural appropriation. How is it that Indians can be so present and so absent in American life? Learn more at Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

At Camp Wandawega, we try to be sensitive to the differences between appropriating a culture and appreciating a culture. We also understand that there are very good reasons to be highly sensitive about misuse of Native American iconography and culture. With this appreciation, we have discontinued creating any new materials, stickers, merchandise, clothing, etc. that leverage traditional imagery or symbols of Indigenous Peoples.

For such items that still remain at Camp, we try to make sure they are represented as an accurate reflection of their traditional usage in 20th century Wisconsin Americana, even though we acknowledge that was a very controversial period in the history of the relationship between the tribes and the local and state governments. For better or worse, Wandawega’s history is steeped in controversy – from the faux-native name of the lake, to being a Prohibition-era speakeasy with multiple federal raids for gambling, prostitution, illegal liquor, etc. For all of these complex topics, we try to find appropriate opportunities to foster a dialogue with our guests around the importance of the historical context. We still have a lot to learn, so we’re always happy to take pointers from others who are more knowledgeable about these important topics.

For fostering dialogue and education with children on why Indians are in Amerca’s DNA, please see the Smithsonian “Americans” exhibit Gallery Discussion Guide. It touches on complex questions such as “Why do Indian names and images surround us? Why does Pocahontas still captivate us? What does it mean to remove a people? Why is a headdress so recognizable?” While there are no easy answers to these complex, multi-layered questions, having a better understanding of the historical context is a great place to start.

Some additional helpful resources for fostering understanding and dialogue:
Native American Cultures on
Smithsonian NMAI Native Knowledge 360°
National Geographic: Native American imagery is all around us, while the people are often forgotten
NPR: Cultural Appropriation, A Perennial Issue On Halloween
TeenVogue: How Racism Against Native People Is Normalized, From Mascots to Costumes