Smoki Museum changes name to Museum of Indigenous People, welcomes new president

With a new name and a Native American Board President, the Museum of Indigenous People in Prescott is looking forward to changes. (Photo courtesy of Museum of Indigenous People)

With a new name and a Native American Board President, the Museum of Indigenous People in Prescott is looking forward to changes. (Photo courtesy of Museum of Indigenous People)

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Barbara Karkula said it is a great honor to serve as the first Native American board president for the Museum of Indigenous People in Prescott.

Karkula said it is an exciting time, especially with the museum’s name change this spring. The museum was formerly known as the Smoki Museum and previously held events that were offensive to some Arizona tribes. Karkula said she wants to ensure the museum doesn’t offend tribes and acknowledged that each tribe has its own culture.

Karkula, a member of the Potawatomi Nation, said the name change will pave the way for the Museum of Indigenous People to support native people by educating more people about Native Americans.

“The name change was long overdue. It was reflective of an old era in Prescott history,” she said. “The people at the time thought they were doing the right thing, but Native Americans made it known that Smoki was offensive.”

Karkula said Native American s have responded to the name change positively. She said the museum wants to be more inclusive with the goal of growing the museum.

She said one key goal to accomplishing this is through education, to offset stereotypes

Karkula has heard people say “There are no more Indians. They are all dead,” or “Native Americans do not believe in God. They just worship rocks and trees.”

She said it is these types of stereotypical comments that show more education is needed for people to be aware of tribal ways and offset these stereotypes.

Currently, the Museum of Indigenous People is open but requires visitors wear masks and also practice social distancing.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the museum is offering online classes, an online artist in residence program and will soon have an online rug auction.

The Museum of Indigenous People currently has a display of 33 Navajo rugs on loan from Toadlina Trading Post on the Navajo Nation. Mark and Linda Winter lent the rugs for the exhibit called “Eye of the Storm.”

Karkula said the Museum of Indigenous People is important to native people, artists, the community and groups like the Prescott Gourd Society.

“It’s important to educate people who have never lived on a reservation. We have people from outside the U.S. coming to the museum. We need to teach young kids about Native Americans so these stereotypes do not continue,” she said. “They need to know what Native Americans are really like and the public needs to know that too.”

Karkula said Native Americans have not been heard in the past. She said while working in Washington D.C. she witnessed the movement to have the Washington Redskins change the name of their mascot. Yet, nothing was done for years until after the death of George Floyd.

Karkula also supports the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement, which she attributes to Native American activists.

About Karkula

Karkula grew up on the Potawatomi Reservation in Kansas and the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona. She remembers her grandmother taking her to powwows, but said at that time in Kansas it was unacceptable to be Native American.

Karkula’s father’s tribe paid for him to go to college and after that he got a job in White River on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Before that, she was used to going to schools where they separated the Native Americans kids from the other students.

There were times when she and the other native students were referred to as “filthy Indians.”

But at White River, she was together with Apache, Navajo and Hopi students.

“Life was normal then,” she said.

Karkula has experienced discrimination, but she knows other Native Americans who have been through much worse.

Karkula remains active with the Prescott Powwow Committee and the Granite Mountain Gourd Society.

Karkula hopes everyone will make a point of visiting the Museum of the Indigenous People at least once. She believes once people visit the museum they will want to return. She said she hopes native people, who get free admission, will come and participate in storytelling and other events.

The Museum of Indigenous People is open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Sunday. More information is available from the Museum of Indigenous People at (928) 445-1230.

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