Changing history to save the future: The Natural History Museum is growing

Pictured: The Natural History Museum bus.(Photo: The Natural History Museum)

Traveling pop-up museum The Natural History Museum has added three new directors to its team

News Release

The Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is honored and humbled to be working with a growing dream team of community organizers, historians, anthropologists, scientists and narrative-change leaders invested in transforming our institutions of science, history, nature and culture. 

Cassandra Begay (Diné) , Director of Community Engagement

Cassandra Begay
(Photo: Museum of Natural History)

Yá'át'èèh shik'èí dóó shidine'è .Shí éí Cassandra Begay yinishyé. Tsi'naajinii nishłį́. Naakaii bashishchiin. Tódích’íí’nii dashicheii. Naakaii dashinalí. Ákót’éego diné asdzáán nishłį́. Hello family and relatives. My name is Cassandra Begay. I am Black Streak Wood People born for Mexican People clan. My maternal grandfather is Bitter Water clan and my paternal grandfather is Mexican People clan. In this way, I am a Navajo woman.

As the Founder of Defend the Sacred Consulting, Cassandra has engaged in transformational organizing with Native communities in Utah and across the country to protect public lands and elevate Native voices and issues. Formally recognized by former President Obama as a social change leader, she led community engagement efforts with Utah Diné Bikeyah to protect the Bears Ears National Monument, and helped to establish the first-ever Diné majority in recent Utah county elections. Raised on the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Cassandra understands firsthand the significance and importance of traditional lifeways in connection with the land. Her identity drives her community organizing for positive change, and for building relations to each other and our environment.

Karina Yager (Quechua) , Director of Education

Karina Yager
(Photo: Natural History Museum)

Karina Yager has abundant experience working with Indigenous communities, museums, and in public and scientific outreach projects on some of today’s most pressing global challenges, from climate change to environmental justice. As a Latina woman with Quechua heritage, Karina has worked with Indigenous communities across South America for over 15 years, and she has worked as NASA Research Climate Scientist for nearly a decade.

Karina brings a trans-disciplinary approach to her work, bridging perspectives from natural and social sciences. In collaboration with photographer James Balog (Chasing Ice and The Human Element) Karina has developed climate education materials that combine art and science, and videos showcased on National Geographic. She has contributed to museum exhibitions on Andean culture and climate change at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Yale Peabody Museum, and NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research). Karina’s doctoral degree is in Anthropology and Cultural Ecology from Yale University. She is an Assistant Professor in Sustainability Studies at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, teaching courses on Global Environmental Change and the Age of the Anthropocene.  

Julian Brave Noisecat (Secwepemc/St’at’imc) , Narrative Change Director

Julian Brave Noisecat
(Photo: The Natural History Museum)

Julian is Narrative Change Director for The Natural History Museum and Director of Green Strategy for Data for Progress. An award-winning writer and journalist, he is a contributing editor at Canadian Geographic and he wrote the foreword to the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Nation, The Paris Review, Pacific Standard, Indian Country Today, and many other publications. He is a correspondent for Real America with Jorge Ramos, and he has appeared as a commentator on Marketplace, CBC, Al Jazeera, Fusion TV and other outlets. He was a finalist for the Livingston Award and twice nominated for the Canadian National Magazine Awards.

Julian studied history at Columbia University and the University of Oxford, where he was a Clarendon scholar. He led the U.S. policy work for climate organization 350.org and helped craft many policy platforms, including the Green New Deal. The belief that Indigenous Peoples can contribute to understanding and solving the world's most pressing challenges inspires his work. A proud member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq'escen and descendant of the Lil'Wat Nation of Mount Currie, he grew up in Oakland, California. 

About the Natural History Museum

Launched in September, 2014, The Natural History Museum is a traveling pop-up museum that offers exhibitions, expeditions, educational workshops, and public programming. Unlike traditional natural history museums, it makes a point to include and highlight the socio-political forces that shape nature.

The museum’s programs appear within established art, science and natural history museums, in its 15-passenger mobile museum bus, and online at http://thenaturalhistorymuseum.org. The Natural History Museum is a member of the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Science and Technology Centers. The museum is a project of Not An Alternative, a collective of artists, scientists, historians, theorists, and activists. 

Reframing the past to save the future 

The Natural History Museum partners with museums to develop programs that help make the subjects of science and natural history more relevant to the day to day lives of the communities they serve. We collaborate with local community groups, scientists, and museum staff on pop-up exhibits, local bus tours, citizen science initiatives, and alternative tours inside established museums. These programs pick up where traditional exhibits leave off–by connecting static displays to pressing community concerns and world events. We do this primarily through Education and Public Programming departments. If you’d like to learn more, get in touch!

Curatorial Statement

The Natural History Museum establishes a space for looking at science. Such a space is necessary because science is under attack on multiple fronts. Capitalist enterprises, corporate philanthropists, and mainstream political lobbyists all look at science from the perspective of their particular interests. Capitalist enterprises fund scientific research for the sake of private profit. Scientists are faced with the option of either serving these interests or closing their labs. Corporations fund museums and exhibitions to enhance their own reputations. For them, science is little more than PR. Lobbyists try to reduce some scientific findings to opinions, while elevating other ones as they promote their privatizing agenda. Against all these tendencies, The Natural History Museum looks at science from the perspective of the common, the common knowledge at the core of science as well as the common nature science defends.

The Natural History Museum trains future generations to look like museum anthropologists. Turned on to the museum, the anthropological gaze discovers the active work of science curators and educators. It sees the activity of display, the decisions regarding what gets included in an exhibit. These decisions incorporate and extend social and political forces, participating in creating the world that they display. When natural history museums tell nature stories, the implications are reflected on us. What is included in these stories is the world we are in, a world in which we are implicated. At the same, we are implicated in the world that does not appear, in the world excluded from museum stories, the world outside their frame: the excluded events, people, and possibilities are also elements of our relation to nature. The Natural History Museum thus cultivates a mode of inquiry that challenges museum anthropologists to engage natural history with an interest in what is left out because that is also part of our relation to nature. 

Some view nature in terms of the privilege of the few, the few who can own it, and the few who can access it. Others view nature in terms of all of us, as if we were not divided in our relation to nature. The Natural History Museum’s perspective on natural history differs by taking its orientation from two basic insights: nature is common and what is common is divided. We struggle over what is common. We fight to keep it common. The fact of this struggle alerts us to division, conflict, antagonism: nature has never been in balance. Nature doesn’t just exist. It insists beyond the limits of the known. What we can’t see and don’t know impresses itself on how and what we see. Since The Natural History Museum looks at the way nature appears, it includes other natural history museums as part of its view of nature. It attends as well to the visitors to museums and their engagement with displayed nature. These visitors reflect the museum as an institution dedicated to a collective future: it provides knowledge under the assumption that there will be a future not closed off into private enclaves. Natural history museums often come under pressure to betray this future, to sell it off to the highest bidder. The Natural History Museum occupies this split in the institution, taking the side of a collective future.

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