“Native Presence” – Pacific Northwest Historians Guild Conference

The Museum of History and Industry, Saturday, March 7, 2009

Between presenters, audience members milled around the linen covered tables while a young woman adjusted the laptop next to the forward podium. Those of us who were seated were either discussing the “Seattle Meets the World” series of presentations or chatting with the presenters. I was fortunate enough to be seated next to Chuimei Ho, who along with her husband, Bennet Bronson, explained the immense cultural and community significance of the appearance of the first Chinese dragon parade during the A-Y-P.

Like most, I faced forward watching the screen and expected an introductory PowerPoint slide for the next presenter, Ana Novakovic, a student at the University of British Columbia. Ana was scheduled to read her paper titled, “Modernity and Tradition: Portrayals of Native Americans at the A-Y-P.” I was  perplexed that desktop icons along with an American flag displayed on the large viewing screen. It occurred to me that maybe there was a technical glitch; I contemplated getting up and offering to assist.

But then Chair Robin Wright from the Burke Museum introduced Ana. Neither women seemed perturbed, so I assumed there was no technical problem with the laptop and a PowerPoint slide would eventually appear.  Yet, the screen shot remained static. Ana, a polished young woman, slowly began reading. At first, I felt a bit uncomfortable. I kept looking at the screen – searching for a PowerPoint slide. I look at the audience and noticed there were others who were also looking for a slide – I found myself feeling awkward and uncomfortable.

My eyes and attention moved to Ana. She spoke firmly and slowly, emphasizing words that were significant or important to her presentation. Her voice never wavered; she scanned the audience for eye contact rarely looking down at her paper. The more material she read, the more she drew us in.  Her intonation and manner commanded and successfully owned our attention. She stressed how the Native Americans were recruited to portray a primitive past by the A-Y-P organizers. They were not viewed as participants but rather entertainers and performers for those who attended the fair.

When Ana finished reading, I was disappointed, not because of her presentation, but because of her presentation – I didn’t want it to end. Ana did not need a PowerPoint slide to enhance her presentation – she had her steady and confident voice which represented her well and those of the Native Americans who “entertained” at the A-Y-P.

University of British Columbia:
Undergraduate Student Awards 2006-2007
Leslie Upton Memorial Prize: best essay on the aboriginal peoples of North America – Ana Novakovic

~ contributed by Edna ~


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Formerly a flight attendant and now, a public services librarian in the King County Library System.

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