A Language Fair, a Community and a Museum The Role of Museum Anthropology in Sustained and Responsive Engagement

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Daniel C. Swan
Mary S. Linn


Founded in 2003 the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair (ONAYLF) has become one of the largest gatherings of Native American language learners in the United States. The Fair is unquestionably the most significant and sustained interaction with Native American communities in the history of the Sam Noble Museum, quickly becoming a signature event that contributes to the museum’s reputation and stature. As the Fair gained increased prominence and importance in the Native American communities of Oklahoma and the surrounding regions it was consistently marginalized within the institutional culture of the museum. Over the course of our respective leadership of the ONAYLF we encountered the continued need for anthropological intervention to “re-institutionalize” a very successful program. In this report we focus on specific impacts of this failed ownership and the anthropological methods employed to address them. We conclude with an assessment of the ONAYLF in terms of on-going efforts to decolonize museum practice.


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Project Reports
Author Biographies

Daniel C. Swan, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Daniel C. Swan is Curator of Ethnology emeritus at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma.

Mary S. Linn, Smithsonian Institution

Mary S. Linn is Curator of Cultural and Linguistic Revitalization at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.


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