Connected \\ November 1, 2017

‘We are no longer alone’

Step into the shared Salem State University dorm apartment midweek during the summer and you’ll find PEM’s Native American Fellows putting the finishing touches on their dishes for their weekly potluck dinner. Listen to the sound of frybread being patted out by hand, the crackle of oil heating in the pan, and the slide of furniture being rearranged in preparation for the meal.

Sit down to eat and you’ll become involved in the Fellows’ conversation. The discussion bounces from work in their PEM departments, onto their individual graduate theses and doctoral dissertations, to beading projects each has planned. In between bites of the meal, the Fellows joke, tease and laugh as though they’ve known each other for years.

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Jennifer Himmelreich. © 2017 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

This easy camaraderie brings back memories of my own time in the Native American Fellowship (NAF) program, which PEM Director and CEO Dan Monroe launched eight years ago.

PEM’s innovative program invites rising Native leaders in the cultural sector from across the United States and Canada to spend the summer working full-time to acquire leadership skills and gain practical work experience on high-level projects. Fellows are often in graduate programs or are mid-career professionals.

When this opportunity crossed my path, I had some work experience and a bachelor’s degree, but was unsure of the role I wanted in the museum field. I applied to the program in 2011 with the hope of learning from an institution that was big enough for me to explore my potential. My expectations were simple: gain new skills while executing projects that would benefit the department in which I would be placed.


Integrated Media Fellow Kaylene Big Knife reviews media installations within It’s Alive! with her supervisor Jim Olson, Director of Integrated Media. © 2017 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

Surprisingly, my learning process began during the interview. I was asked things I had never asked myself: What was I good at? What wasn’t I good at? Where did I want to be in five and 10 years? How was I going to change the field? I thought: “If they asked me these kinds of questions in a 45-minute phone interview, what would I get out of 10 weeks in a creative and supportive environment?”

Working that summer in the Development Department, I created forever friendships and mentorships with the other Fellows and staff. At the end, my supervisors met to review my work and pointed out strengths and weaknesses, reiterating many of the interview questions that started my journey. For me, this is one of the great benefits of the program — that it cultivates habits of mind and challenges self-reflection.

Through a recent, generous three-year grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, I returned to PEM last fall to help build and expand the program, led by Karen Kramer, PEM’s Native American Fellowship Program Director and Curator of Native American and Oceanic Art and Culture. One of my first tasks was to recruit the next cohort of summer Fellows. Mentoring is an important aspect of our program, and based on the rich mentoring I received as a Fellow at PEM, I was eager to help infuse this into all that we do. Because the grant also provides ongoing training with our program alumni, I interviewed past participants to identify areas of continuing education to help them advance in their careers.

Some of that data helped frame the content for our weekly workshops and seminars, in which top-tier Native and non-Native professionals, including several NAF alumni, led discussions about topics such as strategic planning, navigating organizational politics and indigenous curation. The goal is to challenge the Fellows to think proactively and creatively about broad issues relevant to their future work in ways that reflect their community values.


2017 Fellows Gena Peone and Felicia Garcia; Bridget Skenadore 2011 NAF Alumni and Program Officer at the American Indian College Fund; 2017 Fellow Courtney Little Axe; Megan Hill, Director of Honoring Nations program at the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development; Jennifer Himmelreich, NAF Program Specialist; Karen Kramer, PEM NAF Program Director; and 2017 Fellows Erin Griffin, Jami Powell, Jennifer Juan, Rachel Allen and Kaylene Big Knife. © 2017 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert.

To be invited into the PEM family as a Native American Fellow is special. To be part of a group of Native American professionals who are passionate about tribal communities and cultural heritage work is unequalled.

The alchemy that happens in moments during a thought- provoking workshop discussion, over afternoon ice cream at Melt, or like the potluck at the apartment is transformative. Pull up a chair and sit with the summer’s Fellows in spaces they’ve made their own, and you’ll experience the excitement of discovery of one another and the wonderful knowledge that even if we’re the only Native person in a program or institution, we are no longer alone. We have each other as we move forward in our careers and life.


Courtney Little Axe and Gena Peone and the other Fellows enjoy a Red Sox game at Fenway. © 2017 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

PEM offers summer fellowship opportunities for graduate students and cultural professionals of Native American, Native Hawaiian or Alaska Native background. These paid, full-time, 11-week fellowships prepare participants for leadership positions in the museum field and/or the nonprofit cultural sector. The program presents a comprehensive perspective on the theory and practice of museum leadership, in the context of a meaningful, in-depth project within a department of the museum. Weekly intensive workshops, field trips, lodging, travel expenses and a stipend are included. School credit is available upon official request.

Email your application, essay, letters of recommendation, official school transcript and resume to or mail to Jennifer Himmelreich, Native American Fellowship Program Specialist, Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex Street, Salem, MA 01970.

The Native American Fellowship Program at the Peabody Essex Museum is made possible by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Special thanks to supporters past and present: American Express Foundation, The Bay and Paul Foundations, Merry Glosband and Native American Jump Start.

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