How do we change a stereotype?
How do we change a stereotype?


The American Indian Experience: From the Margins to the Center
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) opened its doors in Washington in 2004. The goal? Nothing less than to change how we see the lives of Native peoples. NMAI curator Paul Chaat Smith leads a discussion on hard lessons and brilliant mistakes from the front lines of Washington’s most controversial museum.

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Exhibit Hall


Paul Chaat Smith is the author of Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (1996) and Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong (2009). His exhibitions for the National Museum of the American Indian include Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian and Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort (currently on view) and the permanent history gallery. Smith is Comanche. He has been with the museum since 2001.

  1. Eugenia
    7:08 am on April 12th, 2010

    Good day, Paul! I’m working as educator at the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) RAS (Saint-Petersburg, Russia). The Museum represents wide collections of artifacts from America, Asia and Africa. I’m very interested how does visiting the museum influense visitor’s oppinions about people living in other countries? Can the Ethnographical museum really battle prejudices and improve tolerance or does it only produce new stereotipes? I’m looking for this topic to be discussed during the on-line session.
    Thank you. Eugenia

  2. Manjit Goldberg
    3:38 pm on April 12th, 2010

    I am an exhibit developer at the Maryland Science Center and am curious how museums can present exhibits that challenge and inspire new thinking.

  3. Jenn Nakhla
    5:00 pm on April 12th, 2010

    I’m a Student Life graduate student staff member at The Ohio State University’s Multicultural Center. A lot of what we do here is about challenging students to move beyond stereotyping and get them to be social justice conscious individuals. This is no easy feet. One thing we are interested in doing is learning about new and inventive ways to challenge students. I’m really interested to hear/see where this conversation goes and how I can bring it back to the work I do on a college campus.

  4. Naomi
    2:42 am on April 13th, 2010

    Greetings my name is Naomi and I am an instructor in Intercultural Communication in San Diego. I introduce students to the concepts of individualism and collectivism, high context and low context communication and the role of sociolinguistics. I also introduce students to their own participation in discussions surrounding ethnocentrism and its impact in interpersonal dynamics

  5. Robin Lewis
    12:30 pm on April 13th, 2010

    As someone who helps put education to work for business, I’m interested in seeing how you do your interactive online seminars.

  6. Rena Tibbits
    1:24 pm on April 13th, 2010

    Good morning Paul,

    I am an educator in a historical museum in Oklahoma, U.S.A. What resources would you incorporate into an education outreach program that would include museum staff visitations/workshops in individual elementary classroom settings? What artifacts or materials would you deem as important during a 45 minute presentation?

  7. JoAnn Shine
    2:36 pm on April 13th, 2010

    Hello, I am a homeschooling mother of two young children. I am looking forward to educating myself, to become a better educator for them.

  8. Gloria M. Williams
    2:52 pm on April 13th, 2010

    I am the Outreach Librarian at the Mobile Public Library in Mobile, Alabama. This is an opportunity for me to hear some new ideas and learn some new methods of solving problems. I am also enjoying webinars as a method of extending my education without leaving work. Thanks for the opportunity. Gloria

  9. Claire Giblin
    2:53 pm on April 13th, 2010

    Hello Paul: I am Curator of Collections at the Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin & Marshall College. I am also a professional artist and learned much from my uncle who was an artist, and collector of Western American historical ephemera, including cultural information concerning the First Nations. He taught me much about the truth of both. His experiences began in Europe in the late 19th Century when he was a boy. I’m really looking forward to learning from your experience and wisdom.

    Garry Reply:

    Dear Claire,
    I am responding to your interesting comment. I am an Australian professionally trained artist and educator and one of my most personally rewarding experiences was working with indigenous students at the Cairns TAFE College 1983-85 when I taught screenprinting.I believe that art and craft enterprise skills can empower communities to promote positivism, effect change and importantly, challenge stereotypical thinking.

    Claire Giblin Reply:

    Hi Garry:

    Thank you so much for your response. I totally agree that the making of traditional art and craft do provide substantial evidence against stereotypical thinking. Much of recorded history is based on visual and practical arts. What’s more, these skills are engaging, interesting, and long lasting. Your time with students must have been wonderful. Congratulations for taking on this project. I know that your own art must have been enriched by these experiences—surely affecting your storytelling. It is truly a great gift to make art. Is there a website I can visit to view your work? My very best to you, Garry. peace,


    Garry Reply:

    Hello Claire,
    Thank you for your response. It certainly is interesting that as you say “much of recorded history is based on visual and practical arts”.I deeply hold to the idea that art is a personally enriching and important human activity. As a trained professional, and practicing artist I was involved as a Tafe instructor in the previously mentioned project back in 1983-85 (and again in 1990) when I was asked to teach in a 12 week pilot program, the structure of which I had previously designed and promoted to the Dept.of Communities.This project went from strength to strength and continues to have important repercussions and immense flow on effects for communities to this day. Cairns is a thriving arts community.My own art has been strongly influenced by the tropical North Queensland experience,including the cultural experience.One of the highlights of that time was a field trip to “Jowalbinna” Laura on the Cape York Peninsula to study/view the abundant rock art,such as the “giant horse gallery” and many other sites.Highly memorable and special experiences. Some of this imagery was incorporated into a mural I produced for the Cairns International Airport(with cultural permissions).
    As for my art, I continue to paint, take photographs and make prints.
    You can view my website at
    I also have two blogs- (Articles and ruminations)
    and: (photo/digital media)
    Thank you again Claire for you thoughtful comments.

  10. mayorie
    3:29 pm on April 13th, 2010

    hi paul, this topic seems to be really fascinating. As a university teacher in latin america I think I have to teach my students about topics related to musem history and i consider this is a great opportunity for that

  11. Roberto Ahedo
    4:02 pm on April 13th, 2010

    Hi Paul,
    I’m an elementary school teacher, living in one of the major Maya regions: Cancún, Mexico.
    Stereotypes about Mexican indians are widespread and extremely harmful, also incredibly old. Some of them are made eternal by our indians’ own attitudes, which sometimes grow into vicious circles of self-fulfilling prophecies: what’s the point of helping and supporting a people who won’t help and support themselves? That’s the usual rationale. It’s also the worst stereotype, I think-the Maya, the Nahuatl, the Cholo, etc. can’t see past their own history, and their desire to recapture the golden days. That makes them exploitable, fair game. It’s so sad and frustrating how this concept grows generation after generation, no matter how much we (some of us) try to fight it and change it.
    I’d love to hear a little about this in your presentation.
    Thank you.

  12. Claire C McMillan
    4:45 pm on April 13th, 2010

    Greetings Paul and Participants,

    My name is Claire C McMillan. I am considered to be a Homeschool Expert as well as Education and Business Consultant. During my journeys, I was for a short time a consultant and teacher on the Pine Ridge at Wounded Knee District School. After only being there a short time we took the older children on a field trip to the Journey Museum in Rapid City. One of the Lakota teachers commented to the children how the white people had taken over their families and lives. Then as I read the passages on the exhibits I realized that all sides of the issues were not being addressed. Hence, in the following years I have witnessed this more and more in textbooks, cultural events, historical sites, etc. that not all sides of the story are being presented. What resources and suggestions can you give us?

    Thank you.

  13. Amanda Truett
    5:30 pm on April 13th, 2010

    I Paul. It’s Amanda Truett from Montgomery College. How do I find the archives of these seminars? I want to share/discuss them with my students (who had other classes during this time block)! Are they going to be available soon? RSVP. Thanks :)

  14. Pino Monaco
    8:03 pm on April 13th, 2010

    Amanda, the virtual conferences are stored in

    So far, there are three virtual conferences, the first, on A. Lincoln, was done in February 2009; the second, on Climate Change, on October 2009, and the third is the one on Problem Solving.

  15. Jeffrey Bingham Mead
    10:02 pm on April 13th, 2010

    How do we change stereotypes? One of the first tasks associated with problem-solving is defining the terminology. Once this foundation was established I’d then transition to facilitating activities with inquiry-based communication in mind. I teach mostly Asian nationals, and for the first time ever we have a student from Mongolia! What an opportunity! We discussed some of the images that people have of Mongolia; she just smiled and took it all in stride. Not everyone in Mongolia rides horses or lives in yurts.

    Changing stereotypes is an on-going and infrequent activity. I’ve known people who cling to certain stereotypes out of some emotional need or reflex. Still others I know are so overwhelmed with the diversity the world offers that the best way they know how to cope and contextualize things is to adhere to some notion of stereotyping along the lines of using bookend to keep book upright and in place.

    There is also the source materials people use to settle on certain stereotypes. The words “consider the source” come to mind. Teaching ourselves and our students the use and benefits of inquiry-based learning is a step in the right direction when it comes to changing our stereotypes.

  16. AnnaElizabeth Wooten
    3:49 am on April 15th, 2010

    i guess I missed this program so I will read what you all have been saying and go on from there. I am glad you are doing this , we all have different cultures even amoung our own families. I felt t hat my daughter aught to create her own culture in her family. And she has very sucessfully even the Tamalies Pie rescipe I created and her green bean cassarole dish she created. It is our tradition for our food. We learned about our indian heritage and I am growing popcorn in mt small plot to honor my native american heritage.
    It starts with one person making a small step and for the family all the way up the food chain the first animal that became human. It is up to us to make a difference. I love my world and all its inhabitents. I feel mother nature and the universe is behind it all. If we are kind to our earth she will let us stay here, or she will repeate it again till she gets it right. I live in a muticultured senior building. And I wish I knew more about the Russian peoples and the Armenians. It is so nice to have them here. They do not speak our language, they are friendly, because I do not understand them they are stand off ish it is said I do not know more. I was happy to learn that the apple came from the armenian side of the world. I eat apples all the time.
    I saw that on PBS. Biodiversity is so important we should not fool with mother nature.
    I pray for everyones spirit and I am greatful for all the good people of our universe.
    some day when we have the same mind set we can make positive changes in our world.
    We are all the same under the skin. Our traditions are what define’s us. I am happy to read about these discussions. EVen though I did not get the chance to partisipate.
    I fell ill yesterday, and now I am getting better. I was in a hospital doing tests.
    I am getting better every minute I feel. Thank you for inviting meto partisipate anyway it is fun to read what every one has wrote.

  17. Hope Witcher
    12:45 pm on April 19th, 2010

    Hi, my name is Hope, and I am a special education teacher that is trying to learn about the most innovative ways to reach my students. With technology being a competion in the field of education, I need to learn how I can better myself with meeting the challenging needs of my students using a tool that they love most. I also need to know how to deal with the stereotypic behavior of general education students about special education. That has been a challenge for me more than thirty year.

  18. me'me'
    2:08 am on April 20th, 2010

    This is SO interesting and thought provoking…..I want to go back and reread some of the comments. And what a terrific idea for the Smithsonian to offer….not surprising as The Smithsonian is such a spectacular gift to our world.