“… A tribal museum can help redefine what a museum can be for its community, which is more than just a community gathering place … It’s a place you can go and experience a sense of wonder. That sense of wonder is important — it gives us hope that humans have a future in this universe.”
— Manuelito Wheeler Jr., The Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center Lecture on Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community at Arizona State University
A visit to the Navajo Nation Museum website includes finding these words: “Come and visit a past that begins with tomorrow.” Hear the director of this museum in Window Rock, Ariz. — who at one time served here at the Heard Museum as design director — Manuelito Wheeler Jr., deliver the next Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center Lecture on Indigenous Land, Culture and Community. The lecture is co-presented by the Heard and by Arizona State University.
The Navajo Nation Museum’s mission statement is, “Striving to achieve Hózhό through contemporary and traditional exhibits, programs and tours; to promote our Diné culture, language, history and sovereignty.” The word hózhό is translated as “walking in beauty.”
Wheeler was born and raised on the Navajo Nation. From biographical information provided by Arizona State University:
“Since becoming director of the Navajo Nation Museum in 2008, he has worked with staff to see the completion of numerous exhibits which are 100 percent Native-built from concept, curation and creation. Along with this, he has led his team of eight in creating innovative projects which influence and preserve Navajo culture.
“In the pursuit of native language preservation, the Navajo Nation Museum has partnered with major motion picture studios like Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney Pictures and Deluxe Studios to dub popular movies into the Navajo language. Making these projects a reality has been a challenging but rewarding experience. Currently the museum is completing a Navajo-language dub of Disney’s classic animation film Finding Nemo.
“Under Wheeler’s direction, the Navajo Nation Museum has also worked with world renowned artist Ai Weiwei, partnering him with Navajo artist Bert Benally to create a site-specific installation piece in a remote canyon on the Navajo Nation.”
Read a story here about Wheeler and his work with Disney/PIXAR written by ASU Now reporter Brandon Chiz. ASU Now is an online source of ASU news and events operated by the university.
Wheeler’s wife, Jennifer, an Arizona State University alumna (M.A. English 1999; Ph.D. English 2011) helped with the translation into Navajo.
Wheeler himself also attended ASU where he earned bachelor of arts degree in art history. He and Jennifer have two sons, Waunekanez (who is currently attending ASU) and Hataaliinez.
The Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center Lecture on Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community at Arizona State University addresses topics and issues across disciplines in the arts, humanities, sciences and politics. Underscoring indigenous American experiences and perspectives, this series seeks to create and celebrate knowledge that evolves from an indigenous worldview that is inclusive and that is applicable to all walks of life.
This lecture is FREE and open to the public.