By David Markham
A traveling exhibit exploring the history of federal, off-reservation American Indian boarding schools, which operated between the 1880s and the 1980s, is the latest temporary exhibit being presented by the Johnson County Museum.
“Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories,” opened at the museum on Feb. 1 and will run through March 18.
““Away from Home” is based on an exhibit created by the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz.,” said Curator of Interpretation Andrew R. Gustafson. “It is touring nationally through Kansas City’s Mid-America Arts Alliance.
The exhibit does not tell the story of the Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site in Fairway.
“The Shawnee Indian Mission was an on-reservation, religiously-affiliated and run boarding school that pre-dated the federal system,” Gustafson explained. “For about 20 years, students from the Shawnee and at least 20 other Indigenous tribes attended that site. ““Away from Home” is about federal, off-reservation boarding schools that began at least a decade after the Shawnee Indian Mission site had ceased operating. The Haskell site in Lawrence, Kan., is the closest example of the federal system.”
Museum leaders hope visitors to the temporary exhibit will leave with a better understanding of this aspect of regional history.
“With such a strong Indigenous history in Kansas and with the Haskell Indian Nations University so nearby in Lawrence, Kan., it made sense for the museum to host this incredible exhibition,” Gustafson shared. “Haskell was originally part of the system of federal, off-reservation Indian boarding schools set up in the later part of the 19th century and in operation through the middle of the 20th century – it is now an Indigenous-run university.”
“For “Away from Home,” visitors will come away with an understanding of how education and culture have been tied to citizenship in the past,” Gustafson said. “That history as it is presented in “Away from Home” is both empowering and tragic. I also think visitors come away with an understanding that the legacies of this history linger on today, because that history did not happen all that long ago – some of these schools closed in the 1960s.”
While “Away from Home” contains stories of resilience and revitalization, agency and honor, museum officials note it also contains descriptions of human indignities and hardships in terms that reflect historically racist perspectives and language from past eras. Because it provides historical facts of seemingly unfathomable violence and suffering in the lives of Native peoples, this exhibition is advised for more mature audience members, grades eight to adult.
“The exhibit is powerful,” Gustafson said, “and includes artwork, original clothing items, a barber chair, and many incredible, emotional, and historic images that represent many facets of life at Indian boarding schools.”
This temporary exhibit will take place at the Johnson County Museum, located inside the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park. Exhibit admission is included with regular museum admission rates of $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $4 for children ages one to 17, and free for museum members and children under one. Visit on March 16th for the museum’s quarterly free day and pay no admission. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and is closed on Sundays and holidays.
The museum is also planning programming relating to this exhibit. This includes a Feb. 23 session called Museum: “Away From Home” with Dr. Eric Anderson, a professor of Indigenous and American Indian Studies at Haskell Indian Nations University, and a March 2 session called Museum: “Away From Home” with Dr. Kim Warren, a professor of History at the University of Kansas. Both sessions are for ages 16 and older and will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. on their respective dates. The cost for either program is $8 per person, or $6.40 for museum members.
“Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories,” is being brought to the Johnson County Museum by the Mid-America Arts Alliance, The National Endowment for the Arts, and The Chickasaw Nation.