The Smithsonian Museum on Main Street Water/Ways exhibit arrived in Fort Apache, its second Arizona destination, on July 28. At the grand opening, visitors were greeted by Gwendena Lee-Gatewood, the newly elected White Mountain Apache Tribal Chairwoman, and Karl Hoerig, Director of the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s Nohwike’ Bágowa Museum.
Before the grand opening
Before the Water/Ways exhibit could be celebrated at Fort Apache, it had to travel almost 300 miles from the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum. The exhibit consists of five large units that go together quite easily, but take up a lot of space—all of them are taller than a typical person, and the biggest unit is over thirteen feet long.
The Nohwike’ Bágowa Museum staff and volunteers had help from some experienced Water/Ways installers. Tom Foster, who was part of the Bisbee installation team and co-leads the Miami host site planning team, traveled to Fort Apache to help. Water/Ways State Scholar Paul Hirt was also on hand to lend his expertise. His wife Linda Jakse and Jakse’s cousin Janez Fabijan, visiting Arizona from Slovenia, also helped with the installation.
“It was a pleasure and an honor to help install Water/Ways at Fort Apache. It was like piecing together a big puzzle, each piece fitting perfectly into the whole,” Hirt said. “Everything ran smoothly, just like water.” He reported that the team “completely finished the set up by about 4:30 p.m. Even the electronics were on and working.” The electronic tablets integrated into the Water/Ways exhibit at Fort Apache support WaterSim Arizona, a simulation model that works like a game but teaches users about real water management dilemmas.
Tú hidaa diyinhi . . . Water is sacred
During the Fort Apache grand opening, community members strolled into the exhibit space, saw the tall, curving Water/Ways display, tried the interactive activities, and learned about water stories from the White Mountain Apache community. A companion exhibit detailing the area’s history and geography added a local perspective on the impact and importance of water.
Karl Hoerig demonstrated how these elements interact by making a simple watershed model. Visiting children learned how the local landscape affects water resources for people living not just in the immediate area, but in Arizona communities that are many miles away from Fort Apache.
Hoerig shared, “Water is a central focus of traditional Apache cultural understanding; it is recognized as being both sacred and alive, it plays key roles in stories of creation, and its availability was the defining factor in settlement, land use, and even social and political organization in pre-reservation times.”
The process to host Water/Ways brought the whole community together. Hoerig added, “When I learned of the opportunity to host Water/Ways, I knew that it would be relevant and timely for our audiences. So I consulted with our museum staff and advisors and the Tribe’s water resources folks to confirm that we wanted to host the exhibit. From there, we talked about what visitors needed to know about water from the Apache perspective. We recognized that we should present first some interpretation of the importance and meaning of water in Apache heritage, and we also wanted to provide additional information about what the water rights quantification agreement was all about. I then worked with the museum staff to develop text and choose images for the water heritage panels, and consulted with the water resources director and the Tribe’s water rights attorney on the text and images to be used to present the water rights agreement. I also consulted with and received approval from Tribal Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood for the water rights quantification text. Ann Skidmore and Beverly Malone from the museum staff are our Ndee Biyati’i (Apache language) experts, and they provided all of the Ndee Biyati’i text. I also worked with Lyndon Guy, UA GIS student and water resources staff member, to develop the maps. In doing research on all of the water issues, I began to find information about how significant the current drought is in historic terms, and that was the impetus for the “How dry is it?” panel that documents how the last year has been one of the driest ever recorded.”
Hoerig expects Water/Ways in Fort Apache to be a popular field trip destination for schools across a wide area. The exhibit is a fun way for kids to learn about the scientific and social meaning of water.
“We really want students who visit the exhibit to gain an awareness of the vital importance of water, and the reality of its scarcity in our region. We want local students, in particular, to know more about the Tribe’s water rights quantification agreement and to understand how important the agreement is to the Tribe’s ability to grow and thrive into the future,” added Hoerig.
Teachers can download free materials from the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street website to prepare their students for the Water/Ways experience, continue their water explorations in the classroom, or share their water projects with the world. Maybe a field trip to Fort Apache will inspire the next generation of water problem-solvers in Arizona!
Water/Ways at Fort Apache and Theodore Roosevelt National Historic Landmark
July 28 – September 9
Building 104 General Crook Street
Fort Apache, AZ 85926
For exhibit hours, contact the Fort Apache Heritage Foundation.
928-338-4625 or http://www.fortapachearizona.org/visit/