By Stephen Kidd

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Two decades ago, the High Desert Museum opened “By Hand Through Memory,” a permanent exhibition sharing the stories of the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama, Spokane and Colville people from the period of reservation confinement in the 19th and 20th centuries to the present day.

The exhibition filled a critical need in conveying the deep connections of native people to the High Desert, stretching back from time immemorial to the late 1990s.

Now, the High Desert Museum is preparing to revisit that exhibition, updating it in coordination with tribes throughout the region. I was pleased to see that the National Endowment for the Humanities recognized the importance of this effort earlier this month by awarding a $45,000 grant to the museum to carry out these plans.

The NEH funding will support collaboration with tribal representatives, including academic and cultural experts. Together, their insights will help the High Desert Museum reframe “By Hand Through Memory. “

The exhibition will emphasize that Indigenous cultures are vibrant, living cultures that continue to shape the High Desert.

As a federal agency, the NEH is the only organization charged with ensuring humanities access to all Americans. Its competitive grants support exemplary, innovative work being undertaken across the nation. It is significant that this recent grant is one of many that have been awarded to the High Desert Museum.

In 1980, two years before opening to the public, the museum received an NEH grant to plan its first exhibitions. Two prestigious challenge grants, totaling $800,000, helped the museum raise an additional $2.4 million to hire new staff, construct a Native American exhibition wing and develop the museum’s beloved “Spirit of the West” exhibition in the 1990s.

Additional grants during this decade supported the creation of the “By Hand Through Memory” exhibition and, since then, the museum has received funding to support traveling and temporary exhibitions. These include the 2004 exhibition “Buckaroo! The Hispanic Heritage of the High Desert” and, in 2012, “Bison: The American Icon,” which was organized through the NEH on the Road program.

That the NEH has provided such substantial support to the High Desert Museum is a testament to the quality of the museum’s work. Since its establishment, the High Desert Museum has created engaging exhibitions that represent the natural and cultural history of the High Desert.

Blending natural sciences with art, history and culture, its exhibitions showcase how the region’s natural wonders and people continue to influence each other. The museum serves the region in many other ways as well.

Through Oregon Humanities’ Conversation Project, the High Desert Museum has hosted facilitated conversations that offer community members opportunities to address relevant issues, such as questions of property rights and public land. It is no wonder that the High Desert Museum is a preeminent cultural institution for the region.

By continuing to invest in the High Desert Museum, the NEH is acknowledging the region’s ongoing significance to the history and culture of our country. By representing experiences like those of Native Americans, Anglo-American settlers and Chinese business owners in its exhibitions, the High Desert Museum showcases the region’s diverse history and makes American stories accessible to the public.

The High Desert Museum is committed to celebrating the region’s communities. With NEH funding, the eventual reinstallation of “By Hand Through Memory” will ensure that the museum continues to serve the region with exhibitions and programs that meet the highest national standards.

— Stephen Kidd is the executive director of the National Humanities Alliance, a coalition of organizations dedicated to advocating for the humanities.