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Eastern Shoshone Tribe seeks out input from community members about designs for a new Cultural Hub

Two white sheets of paper full of colorful sticky notes under headings that include "Mission/North Star," "Method/How" and "Impact."
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Input on sticky notes from community members about designs for a future Cultural Hub building for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

On the afternoon of May 7, elders, kids and people of all ages gathered around a long table at the Frank B. Wise building in Fort Washakie. The group of roughly forty people were there to share input on design plans for a building that could house a new museum and cultural center for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

Last year, the tribe was chosen to participate in the Design Learning Cohort and Design Workshop Cohort through the Citizen’s Institute on Rural Design (CIRD). The national program works with community members to provide technical assistance and hands-on training in rural planning.

People of all ages mingle and chat around a long table. In the background on the wall are white paper with colorful sticky notes and a big posterboard.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
People mingle and chat at a community input session to help design a new Cultural Hub for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

After a cedar blessing, drumming and fry bread tacos, the meeting-goers rotated through different poster board displays set up around the room. At each station, community members and CIRD planners chatted about locations, themes and intentions for the space, writing down ideas on brightly colored sticky notes.

While some people arrived just for the afternoon session, others had been there for smaller stakeholder meetings in the morning and the earlier part of the afternoon.

Eastern Shoshone Archives Manager Alejandra Robinson is helping to lead the project, with a special attention to bringing community members into the design process. She said the input sessions are focused on really trying to represent the wants and needs of community members.

“The people that are living here and spending the day here – what do they want to show? What do they want to share? What do they want to learn? How do they want to make use of this facility?” she said.

The current Eastern Shoshone Tribal Cultural Center and museum is inside the Fort Washakie School, a bit off the main highway running through the community. Ideas for the new space also include an archives repository and departments for the Eastern Shoshone Historic Preservation Office and Shoshone Enrollment Office.

A large white poster board full of images and themes related to the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
A display outlines potential themes to include in the design for the new Eastern Shoshone Cultural Hub.

Robinson said the topics explored about the space ranged from the practical and tangible – Where should TVs go? – to the more deep and philosophical – What does it mean to decolonize the concept of a museum?

“Who invented the idea of a museum? When you talk to a lot of tribal members, it's a box and you put stuff in it. That’s just what we’ve come to understand and learn. So how can we create something totally different, that's more our story, that's us?” she said.

This isn’t the first time the idea of building a new museum has been explored by the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. Robinson said it’s been a hope for many since the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The most recent effort was in 2006, when the Eastern Shoshone General Council passed a proposal to explore the initiative. But, staff turnover and funding issues prevented the project from ever truly getting off the ground.

“It's been attempted so many times and that's kind of sad to say. I don't like saying that,” Robinson said. “But we are doing this again. I know we've done it before, but we're really going to try again and we're going to do all that we can.”

Robinson said having the input and guidance of those who were involved in the project in the past has been invaluable, like Eastern Shoshone four-field anthropologist Ren Freeman, who worked on the project back in 2006.

“I asked her, ‘Let us know the history and the background, what should we avoid? What should we do? What's a yes and a no?’ All of that could help us in our journey,” she said.

Freeman attended the community input sessions and said she’s feeling optimistic about how the project might turn out this time.

“We have a great team of people here working with us and the community turned out. We have such passion here too,” she said. “We need to do this for ourselves, for our next generation. We'll get to say who we are as Eastern Shoshone people. And this is our story, our voices."

For Freeman, choosing a site for the new building that has a deep meaning and relationship to the tribe is crucial for the project’s success. And she said she hopes more young people will get involved in the project as it continues to move forward.

“We need to say to the youth, ‘Today, we missed you. We need you, come and teach us.’ We need to see how they interpret culture, see how they see themselves in a project like this, because it's them who will keep it going,” she said.

A group of five people gather around a white board with different options for a site for the new building. On the board are the questions "How is the site serving the community?," "What is the site for? Priority: community? tourist?" and "What is the cultural connection to site?"
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
CIRD planner Omar Hakeem (left), Eastern Shoshone community members and other planners talk about potential sites for the new Eastern Shoshone Cultural Hub.

CIRD planner Omar Hakeem, with To Be Done Studio, said getting to hear input from many different tribal members throughout the day had been both humbling and very informative.

“As an architect, it's a real joy to be learning those things. And now, our job tomorrow and the next day is to translate all that and put it into some kind of built form that people can respond to and hopefully connect with,” he said.

Robinson said there will be more community input sessions in the future, as well as routine informational meetings to update community members on the project's progress. She hopes that the General Council will create a committee for the project and then launch a capital campaign to secure funding to bring the project to fruition.

The tribe also recently received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town program to support the planning process for another two years.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.
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