An African visitor leaving the museum once told us he didn’t understand why Indians are not all very angry. Marcus and I just looked at each other and our reflex was to smile. It’s true, really bad stuff happened. It happened to our ancestors generations back, not to us yesterday. Maybe we are mad, but we can’t keep it at a constant boil. It’s more likely to smolder like a raisin in the sun.
One person who keeps the coals hot is John Bevis, interpreter. I was telling John, it’s hard making our history relevant to students who don’t think it has anything to do with them. He said he interprets it this way. He asks, “Did anyone ever tell you to stop speaking English right now? Did anyone ever tell you to stop going to your church and change religions? Did anyone ever tell you to quit dancing the way you dance? Well, my people were told all that. There was a time when they couldn’t even go to Pendleton without a permit. So don’t ever think you have not benefited from what happened to Indians.”
No matter how hot he gets, John keeps the laugh meter on. He recounted a recent experience with a guest who insisted on paying $3.00 admission. She was indignant that the fee is now $6.00. “The bus driver told us it cost $3.00.” Things escalated to the point that John said, “how about if we let you in free?” “No, the bus driver said it cost $3.00.” “OK, I’ll take your $3.00.” Meanwhile her companions went in free. She stayed in the exhibits longer than them to get $3.00 worth. When she came out, she fixed John with a stern look. Then she smiled and said, “That was very nice.”