The Museum at the Bighorns is hosting an exhibit on reservation healthcare in Montana
The stories of Native American communities have often been underreported and underrepresented when it comes to their experiences accessing healthcare and the impacts that are still felt today. Centuries of abuse, government mismanagement, distrust, and racism have been a regular part of that story. But a temporary exhibit that is part of the collection at the Western Heritage Center in Billings, Montana is telling that story about the experiences on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations. Wyoming Public Radio's Hugh Cook spoke with the Museum at the Bighorn's Jessica Salzman.
Hugh Cook: What was the process to get this exhibit?
Jessica Salzman: We've worked pretty closely with the Western Heritage Center in the past on other traveling exhibits [and] on getting other artifacts from them for different exhibits on loan. So we asked if we could be one of the museums that will be able to get this once they started to travel it and they agreed, which we're really thankful for. So we drove up there and picked up the exhibit and the artifacts that went with it and drove on back to Sheridan.
HC: When did it begin its tenure and when will it come to its conclusion [at the museum]?
JS: The exhibit opened when the museum opened in March of this year, and it will be at the Museum at the Bighorns through the end of July.
HC: What has been the public's reaction or public feedback to the exhibit thus far?
JS: It has been generally positive. With a topic such as health care, you're always worried that somebody's going to think that it's not an appropriate topic. But everybody has just been like, 'Man, I didn't know that. I didn't know what was going on on the reservations. I didn't know this about this history.' It's surprisingly recent. They've generally been really supportive of the museum having an exhibit like this and being willing to discuss a topic like this. Very few people that have gone through like, 'Yeah, I had heard of this before.' That's been really great.
HC: Once it leaves Sheridan will it be going back to Billings or will it be going to another museum elsewhere?
JS: I will be taking it back to Billings, but I know that it's going to another museum after that. HC: Are you aware of any difficulties or complications that the Western Heritage Center had in creating the exhibits such as getting photos, sources and things of that nature?
JS: I believe they had some difficulty in finding images for the exhibit. But I don't know to what degree. They have some really great oral history projects that have been done that they have that the Western Heritage Center houses that have been done by Native groups. So I imagine that was a great source for them.
HC: Did the Museum at the Bighorns contribute anything to the exhibit's creation?
JS: We are exhibiting it; we did not have anything to do with its creation.
HC: Is there anything that you'd like to add?
JS: I think one of the main reasons why we wanted to get this exhibit was because it's a topic that people don't really know anything about. And while yes, the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations are technically across the Montana border, the people that live there came to Sheridan to shop, they were part of the community here, and they still are to this day. And that's kind of easy for people to forget, especially with this negative aspect of that history. We wanted to be able to not be afraid of tackling a difficult topic like this, especially one that is so tied into the history of Sheridan. Because when Native Americans needed to go to a doctor, in a lot of cases they had to use a reservation physician. They couldn't come to Sheridan to go to a doctor, even if they wanted to. That makes this story very much a part of Sheridan's history. And we just really wanted to take this opportunity to be able to show this lesser-known part of relatively recent history. It's been great to work with the Western Heritage Center. They've just been really supportive of the museum. We've been supportive of them. It's just been great to have that professional relationship continue to grow and evolve for the museum and with other museums in the region outside of this exhibit situation. So we're just really grateful for these professional connections that the museum has.