Old Pascua Museum and Cultural Center

My graduate school classmate at the University of Arizona, Ernesto Quiroga, invited me to the grand opening on August 2 of the Old Pascua Museum and Cultural Center in Tucson, Arizona. Located in the original Pascua Yaqui (Yoeme) community and built in 1926, the OPMCC also known as the Matus/Meza House, served as the residence of one of Pascua’s earliest settlers. Ernesto’s brother, Guillermo Quiroga, serves as the museum director. He had this to say about the museum, “The Old Pascua Museum is an important step in honoring the elders who had worked and sacrificed so much for us to be able to see things like this become a reality. Now the Old Pascua community will have a place to share their histories and memories with the youth and others that love our culture and traditions.” Guillermo and many others worked hard to create the OPMCC, and the community should be proud of their accomplishments.


Not all Indians, however, share that love of museums, especially given the past record of museums and Indian relations. Even my friend Ernesto, who ran the Indian Studies program at Pima County Community College until his retirement three years ago, had some misgivings. Why, he asked, does a tribe like the Yoeme, with such rich cultural traditions, need a museum? Museums are for those tribes that have lost their traditions, not the Yoeme. His sentiment made me think of a story I read in Roger Welsch’s book, It’s Not the End of the Earth, but You Can See It from Here. Welsch asked an old Lakota medicine man, Fool Bull, if he was passing along his knowledge of plants to young Lakota or if he was writing things down. “No, Roger,” he said, “I’m not writing them down and I’m not teaching them to anyone.” Welsh pleaded with Fool Bull that his knowledge is like a treasure, and if he didn’t do something to preserve what he knows, it will be lost. Fool Bull just laughed and then replied, “If a treasure is lost, it isn’t gone. It’s still there, where it has always been. It just so happens that at the moment no one knows where its place is. The knowledge isn’t lost. We are. The truth never sleeps.” Then he gave an example. “If everyone were to forget for a moment that aspirin cures a headache, it doesn’t mean that aspirin no longer cures headaches. Aspirin would still cure headache if we knew about it but for a moment we don’t know about it– just as it was when we had the willow but didn’t know about the willow.” (Aspirin comes from salicin found in the inner bark of the willow).

 Like Guillermo said, the Yoeme elder’s hard work made the museum possible. Maybe the Yoeme still know about aspirin, but the museum is a physical reminder that they will never forget about aspirin. Maybe the Yoeme do not yet have a clear vision of what the museum will become, but it is an important step and another tool for carrying those traditions into the future by whatever means they see fit.


© Riccio Exhibit Services, LLC 2013