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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges

People's Choice:
2 votes




Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian


Night Kitchen Interactive




American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges Homepage

The American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges website serves as a bridge between native communities and the public--more specifically, American Indian leaders and students. By highlighting how four American Indian communities are responding to the environmental threats that endanger their land and livelihood, the website engages young visitors in contemporary issues, environmental science, and American Indian cultures. The website was conceived as a classroom tool for middle-school teachers and students, combining videos of first-person accounts with lesson plans, interactive features, and progress tracking.

Employing media and web-based technologies, the website integrates nuanced subject matter related to the world views, knowledge, culture and choices facing Native peoples today with national curriculum standards in science and social studies. The web-based planner enables students to gain new perspectives on what they have learned and to share an environmental issue in their community, publishing it to the site for other students to see without requiring a log in (a barrier to classroom use in many cases). Additionally, to allow for flexible use by educators using in-class computers, the site provides teachers with a reset button when supervising classroom sessions. The site was designed to ensure use in classrooms with and without broadband access.

NMAI collaborated closely with Akwesasne Mohawk, Campo Kumeyaay, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and Lummi nations to document their work in cultural and environmental preservation. Scripts and storyboards were authored by education staff to clearly outline the environmental challenges faced by each community, the traditional practices that influenced the tribes’ decisions, and the overall approach selected by each tribe to address their local environmental issue. In addition to the first-person videos, photographs of historical artifacts and environmental imagery allow for closer inspection of cultural and environmental markers relevant to each tribe’s story.  To complement this content, questions, activities, and the story planner were designed to re-enforce concepts and allow students to reflect on the relevance of the subject matter within their own lives.

The design solution showcases the natural environments of the tribes’ homelands and draws upon their respective cultural expressions to create a sense of relationship between people and place. The site is organized by tribe and by chapters therein to promote both in-depth study of one tribe and/or comparisons among the tribes. Additionally, the site supports classroom instruction, providing a scaffolded learning environment for the benefit of both teachers and students. To address accessibility issues the site complies with Section 508 Standards and PDF transcripts are provided for each video.

The site has been a primary tool in expanding the network of schools with which the museum works. During formative and summative testing, the site was shown to be engaging to both Native and non-Native students and teachers, while tribal members were excited by the site and have committed to working with the museum to develop teacher workshops in their regions. Furthermore, funders have been impressed by the quality and uniqueness of the site resulting in additional funds for the Museum’s national outreach to schools.

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