Huhugam Heritage Center plans expansion project to spotlight history

October 7, 2016


Christopher Lomahquahu

Gila River Indian News

The Huhugam Heritage Center is in the process of opening up space to exhibit more information about the history of the Community with the contributions of tribal members.


It is not the only thing coming to the HHC, the layout of the current exhibit hall will open up space to stream visitors in as they take their historical journey through the museum.


The space is currently used as a storage area and will offer a whole new experience to patrons.


“Visitors will go through where the current exhibits are and will start off by seeing the origins of the Community,” said HHC Director Shirley Jackson.


She said that it is going to tell how the Huhugam and Patayan cultures thrived near the Gila River and of the Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh people.


“[We] are trying to think of how we can link modern O’otham to the Huhugam through historical pieces to make the link,” said Jackson.


Leland Thomas, Museum Technician II, said exhibits are going to come together with information gathered from the Community’s elders.


He said, instead of filling cases with all sorts of objects and artifacts, they are going to make exhibits more engaging.


Jackson said, “We want it to be story driven, because we want the O’otham and Pee Posh perspective to speak for itself.”


Thomas added that it will require a lot of time to gather information and that it needs Community members to complete the exhibits.


Adding to the visitors experience includes a narrative about the river that will be projected onto a screen.


As Thomas guided the way through the lengthy storage area he said that a lot of work will be needed to make the area ready to receive the new exhibits.


One exhibit that visitors can expect to see are displays of O’otham baskets and Pee Posh pottery, which will showcase the talent of some of the Community’s artisans.


There will also be an interpretation of the saguaro harvest, information about the men and women's role in society and how the environment changed with the diversion of the Gila River.


"Lee is working on the interpretive portion of the exhibits, so he will provide a better visual of how it will all flow together," said Jackson.


According to Thomas the whole exhibit will rely on the use of multi-media to tell the story of both cultures and history.


One example of this is the contact with Spanish missionaries in the late1600’s.


Thomas said, "multimedia fits better where we are able to combine various media as a supplement to actual media."


The expansion will also include information about the Japanese Relocation Camp that was located in District 5.


Thomas said the history of the camp has never been told from the perspective of Community members and that it will include stories from elders who were children when the “boom town” sprung up literally overnight in 1942.


What makes this period of time more striking was the fact that the relocation camp had electricity and water while the GRIC side was still without these necessities.


"So you can imagine it being dark and then all of a sudden you have this glow in the middle of the darkness [when] everyone else in the Community was still without power and running water," said Thomas.


Other plans for the new space will focus on the impact of the upstream diversion and damming of the Gila River on the people and how it was the life force of the Community.


Even though work on the space is still in the planning and development stage, staff at the HHC are already getting to work on the research behind each of the exhibits that will be on display once it is completed.