The Hall of IP
I had to pass a battery of tests at the training seminars before they let me out in public. The Hall of Indigenous Peoples has high standards. A series of earnest and engaging graduate students patiently drilled me in syrup harvesting, chowdermaking, and proper dialect. I ran through these unfamiliar tasks, struggling to remember the names of landscape watercolorists and presidential family trees while boiling sap or shucking clams.
One day they dressed us in tweed coats and Birkenstocks for a dress rehearsal. We marched out to the front half of a Cape Cod house they had trucked in and installed in the Hall. It was situated between polyurethane igloos on one side and the fire-retardant thatched-roof huts of Equatoria on the other. We were going to be dipping candles that day. The instructor’s phoneband chirped and he stepped away to conduct his conversation.
One of the Eskimo group sat not far from us. He seemed to be having trouble with his task, which appeared to involve threading a coarse line through a bone needle. “Fuck, man, I can’t get this,” he muttered. A grad student came over and told him to run the line across a block of seal-fat. “OK, thanks,” he said, and then looked up and saw me staring. He shook his head and said, “I’m not even Inuit. I’m Aleut, and I was planning on going to Johnson and Wales to study hotel management. What the fuck happened?”
The Reinstatement of Traditional Lifeways Act is what happened, I thought. All across the continent people were being relocated to their ancestral places of origin based on their lineage. In a way we were lucky. The Act established the Hall of Indigenous Peoples at the Smithsonian, and we ended up here. Better than being shipped off to Vermont, or God forbid Alaska.