“On the first floor of the American Museum of Natural History, a diorama depicts an imagined 17th-century meeting between Dutch settlers and the Lenape, an Indigenous tribe inhabiting New Amsterdam, now New York City. It was intended to show a diplomatic negotiation between the two groups, but the portrayal tells a different story.” A. Fota, The New York Times
Excerpt: What’s Wrong With This Diorama? You Can Read All About It, Ana Fota, The New York Times
“The scene takes place in what is now known as the Battery, with ships on the horizon. The tribesmen wear loincloths, and their heads are adorned with feathers. A few Lenape women can be seen in the background, undressed to the waist, in skirts that brush the ground.
They keep their heads down, dutiful. In front of a windmill are two fully clothed Dutchmen, one of them resting a rifle on his shoulder. The other, Peter Stuyvesant, colonial governor of New Netherland, is graciously extending his hand, waiting to receive offerings brought by the Lenape.
Critics have said the diorama depicts cultural hierarchy, not a cultural exchange. Museum officials said they had been aware of these implications for a while, and now they have addressed them.
The narrative, created in 1939, is filled with historical inaccuracies and clichés of Native representation, said Bradley Pecore, a visual historian of Menominee and Stockbridge Munsee descent. ‘These stereotypes are problematic, and they’re still very powerful. They shape the American public’s understanding of Indigenous people.’
About a year ago, the museum asked Mr. Pecore to help solve the diorama problem…The solution offers a lesson in the changing nature of history itself. And it’s written on the glass. While the scene remains intact, 10 large labels now adorn the glass, summarizing various issues. They were carefully chosen after a research process that took most of 2018.
The largest one, visible from a distance, invites visitors to ‘reconsider this scene.’
The labels say, for instance, that if the scene had been historically accurate, the Lenape would have been dressed for the occasion in fur robes and adornments that signified leadership positions.
The women did not wear impractical skirts that dragged behind them. Further, some are likely to have been part of the negotiations, as women in Lenape societies (past and present) typically hold leadership roles.
While only Stuyvesant was originally identified, the new labels also take note of Oratamin, a respected leader of the Hackensack, a Munsee branch of the Lenape. The list goes on, but it is not complete; there’s only so much room on the glass.”
~Our Thoughts and Prayers Go Out To The Muslim Community and To The People of New Zealand~ Talking Feather