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Walter Echo-Hawk, Native American attorney and ATALM board of directors president, addresses the fourth-year architecture students from OSU School of Architecture. (Photo provided by professor Awilda Rodriguez Carrion)

Pawnees join effort to develop Native cultural center design

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Pawnee Nation Museum Committee has joined the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums, (ATALM), OSU School of Architecture and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians’ Culture Center and Museum staff to develop a prototype model for cultural facilities.

The association is a national, Native-serving non-profit organization that provides sustainable infrastructures to indigenous tribes to ensure the continuation of their culturally relevant training and networking programs preserving and advancing Native culture, history, languag and lifeways.

It has enlisted the volunteer participation of architects with experience in Native cultural building projects as well as fourth-year OSU architectural students and faculty to work with the Pawnee Nation, the museum committee and tribal leadership, along with the Culture Center and Museum staff from the Keetoowah Tribe, to develop the initial prototype model. The team will develop prototype plans that may be adapted by Native communities seeking to build cultural centers that authentically interpret their culture, history and lifeways.

“The overarching goal of the project is to enable Native communities of all sizes to realize their goals to develop and build cost-effective cultural centers by reducing their architectural design and development costs utilizing the process, procedures and designs developed through this model project,” said Susan Feller, association president and project coordinator.

The project launched Sept. 18 when the architecture students and faculty members met with association leaders, members of the Pawnee Nation Museum Committee and other tribal leaders to begin the development of interpretive conceptual design(s) for its cultural center. The following Friday, the group visited the Keetoowahs’ Cultural Center and Museum to expand on building design features at the Tahlequah, Oklahoma, site.

“This collaboration will provide the students with experience working with Native populations, will help ATALM develop and test resources to be freely shared with all Native communities, and will enable the Pawnee Nation to expedite the process of developing their own Cultural Center in future years,” Feller said.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students and the OSU School of Architecture that fulfills each arm of the OSU land grant mission: research, education and outreach. Partnering with a national tribal-serving association and Oklahoma Tribes to develop a prototype model for use across the country allows us to employ unique teaching techniques such as the Participatory Design Model to cultivate collaborative learning communities. Designing with the community rather than designing for the community is the critical difference. It does not dictate design but creates an environment that allows it to emerge through the process and interactions with the end users and the community,” said Awilda Rodríguez Carrión. She and professor Keith Peiffer will be coordinating and working with the students, tribal leaders and community at large.

For further information, contact Sharilyn Young, ATALM project manager, at 918-708-2237 or Rodríguez Carrión at

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