Originally published in the InterTown Record, Jan. 24, 2016:
(photo by Ray Carbone, Carbone Productions, LLC)
by Ray Carbone
WARNER – Back in 2005, Patricia Violette took a job that changed her life.
“I am originally from Augusta, Maine,” she said, sitting in her new office as executive director of the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum (MKIM) last week. “I worked at the Old Fort Western, which is the oldest surviving wooden fort in America.”
Violette was always interested in history, majoring in the field as an undergraduate student at the University of Southern Maine, and receiving a masters in history at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine.
But the 2005 position excited her. It allowed her to build on her knowledge about early European immigrant life in America, and it piqued her interest about Native American cultures and history.
“I knew about the British history and I knew about the French history,” Violette recalled. “But I wanted to tie in the Indian history, and understand the Indian culture.”
Violette describes her leadership style as working “as part of the team,” so it’s not surprising that she consulted with local tribes and conferences for three years to create a special “Pilgrims and Indians” program for the Fort.
It became a significant contribution to Maine’s educational system. “Nothing was being taught in the schools but the (state) learning standards demanded that teachers teach about Native American history,” Violette explained. “How do you do it, and do it correctly? The teachers were teaching stereotypes, they were teaching the wrong ways. This gave us a chance to teach the correct, political ways – and ones that the native community approved.”
The MKIM’s new director wants to bring the same focus on education to her new job.
“Education is huge with me,” she said. “It’s very important to me that our school groups particularly understand the (Indian) stereotypes and that we dispel them. I want us to give them the proper, correct knowledge of the culture.”
Violette also wants to build on the museum’s social connection with Native Americans. “The museum has a wonderful staff of people,” she said. “Some are native community members and some are not – and the connection that they make together works. From everything I’ve heard and observed, we really do try to bring that (Native) community in, and give them a place to go to, a place to be proud of.”
After Violette left the Fort six years ago, she began work at a early American historic site in the Boston area, but she was disappointed that there were few local Indians with historic ties to the local region.
“In Massachusetts, the natives of Boston were all gone long ago,” she laughed.
After the historian learned about the vacant leadership position here in Warner, she was excited.
She’s only been on the job for a few weeks but she likes what she’s seen so far.
“In the museum, we showcase all (tribes), from the northeast to the southwest Indians,” she said. “So we touch upon all of the cultures, and they vary greatly as you go along the way. And it’s not just the Northeast tribes (here) but any indigenous North American tribe. This is a place to come and be a part of their history.”
The new executive director hopes to broaden the MKIM’s educational focus.
“Now that I’m here, I have lots of ideas that hopefully will bring the native communities together, and (let us) tell the real stories, the complete stories about what happened and why,” she said. “I’d like to see more engaging, hand-on programming that brings to light a lot of the activities that the native culture has given to us. We already do things like basket-weaving and working with beads, and different things like that, but I’d like to write some educational programs that (include) little stations with hands-on things to do.”
From her research, Violette knows about some local tribes but she understand that’s different from meeting local Indian people and working alongside them.
“With anything, respect takes time, trust takes time,” she commented. “The Native community (here), they don’t know me. So I want to make sure that I respect their wishes. But I would like to tell the whole story, and not show anyone in the Native community in a bad light.
“After all, they were the first here, this was their land,” she added. “It’s a difficult process, to please everyone, but that’s the goal from a cultural standpoint. It’s to make sure that we’re respectful to all.”
The MKIM is closed for the winter but group tours are sometimes available. Call (603) 456-2600 for details. The museum will reopen on May.