The way Kate Beane sees it, the new "Our Home: Native Minnesota" exhibit at the Minnesota History Center is an opportunity for the state's Native Americans to tell their own story.
"When I think about how Native people in Minnesota are talked about, the historical interpretation often comes from outside of our communities," Beane said.
"In order to help people understand the meaning of our experiences, we have to be able to tell these stories ourselves," she added.
The Native American population of southeastern Minnesota seems to be in a constant state of flux.
Native Americans in Minnesota refuse to be consigned to the musty pages of history.
Beane, director of Native American Initiatives at the Minnesota Historical Society, is a Flandreau Santee Sioux who holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Minnesota. She was one of the developers of the exhibit, which opened Dec. 7.
Evaluations and surveys at the history center, Beane said, have indicated a desire to know more about Native American culture and history. "Our Home: Native Minnesota" is designed to provide that knowledge, for both Natives and the population at large.
"We constantly hear from visitors and teachers that Native American stories are fundamental to understanding Minnesota history," said Kent Whitworth, director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society. Until now, though, those stories have been told in piecemeal fashion.
"Now we have a permanent gallery devoted to the stories of today's Native communities," he said. "These stories show how Native people have retained cultural practices, teachings and values, and an essential connection to home."
The exhibit is designed to be long-term, but will periodically incorporate new content.
"We want to use this as a base," Beane said. Artifacts will rotate in and out of the exhibit, partly for preservation purposes, and partly to illustrate new stories.
"I want people to come through this learning something new, having a better understanding of the land and the people who have lived there for thousands of years," she said.
The exhibit could be just as informative for Native people, who in some cases are not familiar with their own history and traditions.
"In school, I wasn't taught the history of my own people," Beane said.
But, she added, "Native history is Minnesota history, Native history is American history."
Too often, though, Native history has been short-changed.
"Oftentimes, our histories get simplified," Beane said. "Our people often get compartmentalized into different groups. That has been at the expense of the truth. Life is complicated, and so is history."
The new exhibit attempts to unravel some of that history, which has been kept alive, under frequently dire circumstances.
"Looking at the way our languages have survived, that speaks to our strength," Beane said. "Truth-telling is important, but it also needs to be told with positivity. We want to say, 'This where we've been, this is where we resisted, this is where we're going.' "