Attendance exceeds goal of 20,000 visitors

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FARMINGTON — More than 26,000 people visited the Navajo Nation Museum to view and learn about the Navajo-U.S. Treaty of 1868 last month.

"My internal goal was 20,000 people, so I'm very happy that was exceeded," museum director Manuelito Wheeler said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

The museum in Window Rock, Arizona, used a counter to tally visitors, and there were long lines during the last two days of the exhibition, Wheeler said.

The 20-page document, along with the ratification by the U.S. Senate and by President Andrew Johnson, were loaned from the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., to the museum.

The exhibition opened on June 1 — exactly 150 years after the treaty was signed by Navajo leaders and federal officials at Fort Sumner — and ended on June 30.

The documents left the museum on Tuesday, Wheeler said.

"The feeling was bittersweet, but the Navajo Nation Museum has built a great relationship with the National Archives, and we are already planning on when to bring it again," he said.

He added that dialogue is taking place between the two entities to display at the museum all the treaties that relate to the tribe.

"At this point, we're in discussion with them, but that's one of the important things that happened. We built a working relationship with the National Archives so when we say we're interested in bringing these documents, they know we're serious, and they know we're capable of doing it," Wheeler said.

Although the treaty has left, the displays will remain in the museum gallery and become part of a larger exhibition in September that will examine Navajo life prior to colonial contact and the tribe's development after the treaty was signed.

Jaynie Parrish, founder and digital organizer for Parrish Digital, volunteered to interview and record by video or audio visitors' thoughts and reactions to seeing the treaty.

Some videos are posted on the museum's account on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Parrish said she decided to help because she wanted to document the response to the unique exhibition, including asking visitors to share any stories they have about the treaty and their outlook for the tribe.

"I was curious to see what will come out of it," she said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

Wheeler said Parrish's work helped share the visitor experience online and shows the range of emotion about the treaty.

He added the interest generated by the exhibition resulted in various groups donating time to help the museum, including the Navajo Rangers, who provided extra security. The Navajo Rangers are commissioned law enforcement officers who protect and preserve natural and cultural resources, and safeguard livestock property on the reservation.

The museum was also efficient in using the $350,000 in supplemental funding approved this year by the Navajo Nation Council and tribal President Russell Begaye.

"We spent wisely, and it affected over 26,000 people," Wheeler said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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