After more than 30 years, UNC Pembroke’s Museum of the Southeast American Indian has a new voice.
Nancy Strickland Fields is the new museum director and curator. She began her job in January.
Fields brings 15 years of museum experience from three of the nation’s most prominent American Indian museums in New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Oklahoma.
Her expertise is in the areas of museum education, curatorial and administration.
“Through her wide range of museum experience, Ms. Fields brings a wealth of knowledge to the director’s position,” said Dr. Alfred Bryant, dean of the School of Education.
Since opening in the 1970s, the museum has had four directors. Stan Knick, who served at the helm for 30 years, retired last year.
Fields is excited about her new role at UNC Pembroke. Though she was raised in Charlotte, she spent a lot of time visiting family in Robeson County.
“I grew up visiting this museum,” said Fields, an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe. “I am still pinching myself. “I am very honored to be in this role. I am excited to bring everything I have learned throughout my career to the museum and bring it to life in new ways.”
“I am home. I feel like this is where I am meant to be and I don’t take that charge lightly,” she said. “I am very passionate about my people and my culture.”
Located inside Old Main, the Museum of the Southeast American Indian attracts an average of 10,000 visitors each year. The staff of three gives 180 group tours a year.
The museum will soon begin offering hands-on learning activities for visitors ranging from children to grandparents. She defined it as “intergenerational learning.”
The new discovery center is part of Field’s five-year plan to re-design the museum’s floor space. The plan calls for adding a gift shop, and interactive displays dedicated to Southeastern American Indians and another with a Civil War emphasis.
“We want to focus on what the Civil War means to all people of color,” Fields said. “It was a starving period for us and it was an era of hope and self-determination.”
In terms of culture and art, Fields wants to break down the barriers of compartmentalizing Native history. It is important that the museum remains inclusive for visitors of all ages and backgrounds.
During art interpretations and tours, it is just as important to offer a first-person Native perspective.
“A very important aspect of a tribal museum is voice,” she said. “Who is telling the story? This gives us a real sense of ownership in terms of this is our chance to tell our story from our perspective as southeastern people.”
The museum also offers a unique learning environment for UNCP students. Fields said she hopes instructors will use the space to offer lectures.
Fields comes to UNC Pembroke from The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum where she served as the education coordinator.
She also previously worked at the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian and the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum where she received her undergraduate degree. Fields holds a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
She is one of only three female directors of Native museums in the nation. The daughter of the late Eartle Jane Oxendine, Field’s family tree is rooted in the Harpers Ferry community.
Fields said she is looking forward to sharing her passion for art and history with the UNCP family and the broader community. She compares a museum to a cultural center that shares art, culture, and history in a vibrant, relevant way.
“This museum is extremely important to us and all people of the southeast,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to tell our story. It is a place that fosters dialogue. A gathering place for us to come together and express ourselves through art and story and shared experience.
“We are very fortunate to have a university that supports all of those things.”
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