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Posted on Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 5:29 a.m.

Last chance to see the 'Native American Dioramas in Transition' exhibit at University of Michigan museum

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

You don't have to spend more than a few minutes hanging around the Native American Dioramas in Transition Exhibit at the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum to see several children run up excitedly, thump up onto the ledge in their big snow boots, and squeal, “Ewwww, they’re naked! Why are they naked?”

A tired parent struggles to explain—or not—leaving the children to figure it out for themselves -  “They must be really poor,” “They must not know any better,” or “That’s their culture.” There are no Native American doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, architects, librarians, activists, or astronauts depicted.

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It is not difficult to understand the hurt these diaramas must have caused Native American children seeing the exhibits with their classmates during the fourth grade Native American social studies unit, or how easily misperceptions and stereotypes are perpetuated.

I can feel it, too. Imagine if it was you and your family depicted there - tiny, naked, nerdy, weird, frozen in time. And all your friends and random strangers, looming giants overhead, pointing and laughing from on high about all the things that set you apart as different.

This week is your last chance to see the Native American Dioramas in Transition Exhibit at the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum. They come down for good January 4, 2010. Make sure to take the time to read the interpretive overlay and explain it to your children. That understanding is what makes this decision meaningful.

Exhibit Museum executive director Amy Harris explains the decision in this video.

To the right of the exhibit is a station where museum-goers can enter the conversation about the museum’s decision to bring down the exhibit. Many comments go along the lines of, “I loved these exhibits when I was a kid, my kids love these exhibits, please don’t take them down.” However, even more speak to the pain and humiliation these exhibits cause Native Americans and others, and the big scholarship problems raised. Read and join the online discussion at the Exhibit Museum’s website.

Check out the FAQ at the Exhibit Museum website.

The University of Michigan is also offering numerous public educational events this year as part of the 2009-2010 LSA Theme Year, “Meaningful Objects: Museums in the Academy.”

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at