Elkhart County History Museum collaborates with Pokagon and other tribes for new exhibit

The Elkhart County Historical Museum is overhauling its downstairs exhibits for the first time in the museum’s existence, which is including more detailed information and new objects based on their collaboration with the Pokagan Band’s Language & Culture Department, as well as staff from the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and the Citizen Band of Potawatomi.

The updated exhibits are called “Crossroads of Elkhart County,” and together will tell the story of Elkhart County, from the Paleolithic Period where mastodons and mammoths roamed the region, to present day, once all three phases are complete. Phase 1 opened in December, and it begins this story.

“Crossroads of Elkhart County: Forging A Path” is scrolled across the door that leads to a golden room near the museum’s entrance. Inside, the Great Lakes have been painted across one wall, and an artist is putting the finishing touches on an even larger painting of North America. This is Phase 1. Posters of information hang across and around the room, and Pokagon citizens would quickly notice the Potawatomi language used on many of them.

Archivist Blaire Topash-Caldwell studies each of them, seeing months of collaboration finally on display. “Kyle was able to translate these for us,” Blaire says of the text on the posters, speaking about Language Specialist Kyle Malott.

Blaire met with museum staff after they contacted her about their planned renovation. Museum Director Julie Parke emphasized that tribes should be telling their own stories, not have their stories told to them by others, and that she hoped the Pokagon Band would tell their story there in the museum.

“As a staff, we really felt the museum was not telling the stories of these cultures as thoroughly as we could,” Julie said. “Our new exhibit examines how the earliest people of this area contributed to unique, complex, and innovative societies.”

Phase 1 also features objects like a traditional lacrosse stick, on loan from the Miami Tribe, a mammoth tusk taken out from its casing, and life-size drawings of traditional canoes. There are interactive portions for adults and kids to enjoy. Visit “Crossroads of Elkhart County: Forging a Path” during museum open hours Tuesday–Saturday 9am to 5pm.