Diana Fields grew up in a multiracial family that was loud and proud about their heritage, including Scottish, Eastern Band of Cherokee and African American roots. And now she and husband Arthur, an enrolled Pawnee and Otoe tribal descendent, are raising their five children in the same way.
“It was all part of my upbringing,” said Fields of her childhood in Maryland and Washington, D.C. where she was surrounded by varied cultures. “It has contributed to the way I am as a person and how I identify.”
Fields’ appreciation for and curiosity about all cultures, along with dynamic institutional knowledge of presenting varied cultures as approachable to all audiences, were paramount as she led the creation of Liichokoshkomo’ at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in her role as chief program officer.
The new exhibit, whose name means “Let’s play!” in Chickasaw, provides hands-on learning for kids and families about the American West, including the personal perspective of Indigenous cultures. From measuring what they can haul West in a covered wagon to exploring various Indigenous homes, the immersive experience seeks to showcase the variety of cultures that shaped history.
“You see themes represented there of diversity, inclusion and being invested in the community,” said Fields. “Diversity throughout the institution is a main focus, sharing all of these rich stories so everyone who visits can see themselves in the museum.”
That authentic representation of a convergence of diverse cultures is paramount to Fields both professionally and personally. Fields’ children, who range in age from 6 to 15, honor their Pawnee heritage through their father’s ancestry in their daily lives. She says Liichokoshkomo’ captures how today’s Indigenous kids like theirs are often living in both traditional and contemporary worlds, bringing cultural context into life today.
“My kids are dancers, we go to ceremonies, we teach them to be prayerful and teach them cultural ways,” said Fields. “Traditions may have begun in the past, but they are still going on today, very much alive, and being able to share that is important and valuable.”
Eager to learn
While pursuing a degree in art history and archeology from the University of Maryland College Park, Fields landed her first job with the Smithsonian in the National Museum of Natural History’s gift store.
“I was so excited as a college student, thinking, ‘I am so big time,’” laughs Fields. “I was truly walking on air when I landed that first job.”
Fields calls that experience the beginning of her education in how museums function. It was also where she met her Oklahoma-born husband-to-be. Within a few months, Fields transferred to the National Museum of the American Indian, where she began working with Indigenous artists and became an Indigenous representative for the visitor services staff.
She gained experience across a variety of museum departments and met and learned about Indigenous communities from all over the world.
“The first time I worked with people coming in and asking questions about the culture, I realized there was a view that we existed only in the past,” said Fields of a common stereotype facing Indigenous people. “This was an opportunity to engage with the public and transform myths and misconceptions.”
Falling in love with Oklahoma
With the same familial commitment to honoring his heritage, Arthur was deeply missing the wide-open spaces of his Oklahoma home. The couple decided to move back the Sooner State where Fields worked for Indian Health Services. They returned briefly to Maryland, where Fields engaged in grant work that would become very valuable as they came back to Oklahoma.
In 2010, Fields traveled to Oklahoma City for a development position interview with the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. She was immediately struck by the Smithsonian-quality institution, from the collections to the level of knowledge of the staff. She also remembered the anecdotal experiences she loved about Oklahoma.
“I remember the first time I arrived someone held the door for me and that was almost shocking,” recalls Fields. “People are more hospitable here and it was better for the family we were starting. I fell in love with Oklahoma.”
Fields has spent the past 10 years at the National Cowboy Museum working in both the development and education departments. She’s also worked closely with the Annie Oakley Society, where the idea and capital campaign for Liichokoshkomo’ began, with Fields’ museum background and experience with Indigenous communities both tremendous assets.
“They devised a plan to elevate all the stories that weren’t being told here, elevating women and minorities,” said Fields. “We’ve really gone through a transformation that didn’t happen overnight; it took work.”
The fundraising process for Liichokoshkomo’ began in 2014, along with intensive community stakeholder focus groups to evaluate and hone the vision. The exhibit opened earlier this year, though community engagement was delayed a few months by COVID-19.
In addition to visiting a train depot, considering how to load a covered wagon, dodging a geyser, grinding corn, adding to weaving on a giant loom and hearing from multicultural storytellers, visitors can explore an intertribal village of traditional homes representing seven tribes. Representatives from Caddo, Chickasaw, Hopi, Kiowa, Navajo and Pawnee and communities were instrumental in the creation of the village.
Fields is proud of all the work that went into developing the multi-million dollar interactive experience across 2.3 acres, but perhaps most proud of the work with Indigenous communities, whose impact on both history and present day can be read on placards near their representative homes.
“The old-school way of presenting Indigenous cultures is a museum curator who writes perspective based on their educational background,” said Fields. “This experience is different. We talked to the communities themselves and they drove the narrative, conveying their own thoughts and feelings and telling us who they are from their perspective.”
Passing it on
Fields is pleased that all visitors, but especially students, get to see and experience how vibrant and influential Indigenous cultures are today. Fields and her husband are passionate about providing their children a foundation of understanding and appreciating their ancestors and history.
“Connecting to all aspect of your past teaches you values and life lessons,” said Fields.
She laughs that Fortnite will always have some influence, but in general her kids would rather attend a powwow over other activities because that’s what they’ve been brought up doing, and they recognize the significance in honoring and participating in their heritage. Her eldest son loves to sit and talk with elders, and all the cousins enjoy dancing together in their family troupe.
The Fields family also makes regalia together, and she finds joy in passing that knowledge down to her kids. Her son recently made his own breast plate, as well as breast plates for some younger friends. Just like Fields remembers attending Scottish festivals and experiencing various cultures as a child, she wants to pass that on to her own kids and to every child who visits Liichokoshkomo.’
“It helps you share differences but also commonalities with people who may be different than you,” said Fields. “You find out, when looking deeper, that we have shared values.”
Fields loves interacting with guests in Liichokoshkomo’ to hear what they learned, enjoyed or were surprised by. She’s been especially touched by rural kids learning about Indigenous cultures they may not have been familiar with before, or inner city kids who may not get outdoors often experiencing the wide-open Western vistas.
For all children who visit Liichokoshkomo,’ she hopes it’s just the jumping off point that sparks their desire to learn more about other cultures, or even more about their own.
“There are such a rich plethora of activities that happen throughout our state that you can be part of, from powwows and stomp dances to visiting cultural centers and fairs and festivals,” said Fields. “Every [Indigenous] community has great resources for community members to learn more.”