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A WGVU initiative in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation using on-air programs and community events to explore issues of inclusion and equity.

Urban Native Experience Featured at Museum Exhibit

Noel Stojkov

The Grand Rapids Public Museum and Grand Valley State University partnered to host an exhibit highlighting the urban experience of Native Americans in west Michigan.

As people shuffled into the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s Circle auditorium, up on the stage, Native drum and song group Wandering Nation welcomes them in "the good way". While the song may have echoes from another time, it’s actually a contemporary piece written by a local man less than twenty years ago. Here’s band member Jarad Medukas:

“The gentleman that we’re talking about, Phil Memberto, not only taught me how to sing, but he has composed so many of the songs that so many of the drum groups from the area sing.”

The exhibit, Walking Beyond Our Ancestors' Footsteps, is much like the song in that it focuses on the urban experience of local Native folks today. Matthew Fletcher says he identifies more with the contemporary exhibit than with the museum’s permanent, historic exhibit, even though his family is featured in both.

“ I always tell people about Indian museums, when we go to museums we tend to look for our friends and relatives and more likely than not we’re going to see someone we know.”

Fletcher is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians but the reality of Native folks in west Michigan wasn’t as easily defined even twenty or thirty years ago.

“You know most of the tribes in Michigan were not really in operation because they didn’t have federal recognition.”

The event was a partnership between the Kutsche Office of Local History at GVSU, and the public museum.  

Mariano Avila is WGVU's inclusion reporter. He has made a career of bringing voices from the margins to those who need to hear them. Over the course of his career, Mariano has written for major papers in English and Spanish, published in magazines, worked in broadcast, and produced short films, commercials, and nonprofit campaigns. He also briefly served at a foreign consulate, organized for international human rights efforts and has done considerable work connecting marginalized people to religious, educational, and nonprofit institutions through the power of story.
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