By Michael Hopper
My name is Michael Hopper, and I am a senior intern for the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History for the University of Oklahoma. My major is Native American Studies and History with a concentration on Tribal Cultural Preservation. I am a full-blooded Native American raised in the traditional ways of both my Choctaw and Osage people that includes being raised a traditional Southern Strait Dancer and community member on the Osage Nation reservation in northern Oklahoma. I also grew up participating in ceremonies and religious practices with my family, which has guided my interest in ancient civilizations and cultures in the pre-colonial Americas.
This interest led me to being given the opportunity to intern in the Archaeology department under Dr. Marc Levine, Associate Curator and Susie Fishman-Armstrong, Archaeology Collections Manager and NAGPRA Coordinator. My internship focus has been on the collections relating to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The goal of the NAGPRA law is to return Native American Ancestral remains and associated funerary objects (AFOs) back to their original people. With this internship I have learned to properly care for the Ancestral objects related to NAGPRA, in preparation for their return.
Before starting this internship, like many students, I enjoyed my studies and the direction of my education, but I was struggling to find a career path that included my interests. An internship was required for my degree and I wanted to explore museum careers. Dr. Levine told me about this internship opportunity which would give me hands-on collections management experience in museums. With this opportunity, Dr. Levine and Susie Fishman-Armstrong have helped open a lot of doors for me that I had not expected. They were able to help me narrow my career path to Tribal Cultural Preservation, with a specialization in researching and implementing the laws associated with NAGPRA. With direction and encouragement from both of them, I reached out to other museums and tribal heritage programs for additional career advice.
Two of the programs they connected me to, were the Choctaw Nation and Osage Nation Cultural Preservation programs. Both Nations gave me great advice on what I should be focusing on in my studies for graduate school. The Choctaw Nation also invited me to their headquarters in Durant, Oklahoma to meet in person and tour their facilities. On that trip I was able to learn more from a tribal perspective about potential careers in tribal cultural preservation. At the end of the trip, I was offered a paid summer internship to work with the Choctaw Nation to learn more about how their program functions. Overall, this internship has meant a great deal to myself and others that have taken this opportunity before me. With the guidance of Dr. Marc Levine and Susie Fishman-Armstrong, I believe the internship will continue to be a great experience for those chosen in the future. And for me being Native American, it has meant a great deal seeing the important, hard, respectful work the Sam Noble Museum’s NAGPRA program does each and every day. I will always be personally grateful for getting to know the team and the time and energy they spent training me for a future in this field.