Stories of Medicine Lodge come to life with new interactive experience

Barbara Anne Greene

The new Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site will soon have what some may call a world class experience.
An addition was added to house a cultural experience like no other in Wyoming and possibly the United States.  As you go through the exhibit you will be taken back in time.
According to Brooks Jordan, Wyoming State Parks District Manager, the project started two years ago. “It will address the need for additional interpretation at the site, and introduce to the visitors more of an in-depth experience of what it would have been like to have lived here a hundred, a thousand and even 10 thousand years ago. It is a window into the lives of those that did.”
He said it is a very immersive and interactive experience unlike most museum people may have gone too. Only small groups up to four people will be allowed in the experience at a time. It should take about 15 minutes per group. Jordan said it is more like a ride or experience at a theme park versus wandering thought a museum.
To ensure that the indigenous people story was told from their point of view, Jordan went to the Wind River Reservation. He communicated with different tribal representatives and elders of the Crow, Northern Arapaho, and Eastern Shoshone. He hopes to develop a similar relationship with the Blackfeet tribe. “We’ve made some good progress working with Native people and hearing their stories.”
Medicine Lodge Superintendent Heather Jolley said the displays themselves are very exciting. “A lot of fine details. It immerses you into the moment of time of that room. You journey through time, seasons and throughout the day in four rooms. Each room will give you a different feel. When you go into the winter room, it feels cold. It’s the atmosphere not necessarily that the temperature is colder.”
Jolley added that most of the time you read information from a book or a plaque on the wall. “It doesn’t make you think about it. You just read it. In this, people experience the moment. We want them to walk in there and feel something. We are hoping they will feel what life was like so long ago. Why Medicine Lodge itself is so special. You can’t do that with words.”
In addition to the season rooms, there are two additional rooms. The first room is an introduction to the experience. The lights go down and a voice welcomes you to the sacred site referred to as Medicine Lodge. “Home to people and cultures for over 10,000 years. An indigenous culture. The term medicine means spiritual healing. The term lodge, places to dwell. This is an ancestral home of many cultures. While you are here, it is important for you to be respectful, show reverence and to honor this space. This helps protect the land.”
The voice goes on and asks you to honor the sacred directions. “The east. The south. The west. The north. Above and below.”
You move to the next room to a drum beat which represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth. That room is winter. There are rooms for spring, fall and summer.
The last room visitors will go through is the Hall of Portraits. There are five monitors. “Each one has a different indigenous person giving some perspective either on their culture or their life today.”
Each story is compelling, full of perspective and in some cases dispels common misconceptions about indigenous history. For example, the Shoshone tribe was not put on a reservation because they fought against the American government and lost.  They were scouts that helped track common enemies for the troops.
One story was from Morning Star. This is a Cheyenne name, which was given to him by his mother. She was Northern Cheyenne. His dad was Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho. He is an Army veteran.
Morning Star noted that traditionally the tribal stories are verbally passed down from generation to generation. When an elder dies, often times the knowledge does too. Many of their ceremonial and cultural activities were banned/outlawed in the early 1900s. “Indigenous people globally have something to offer to this world right now. I think in this time of division, stuff is happening to Mother Nature. The tribes have a lot to offer (knowledge).
Jordan stated that they will continue to interview indigenous people to incorporate their stories into the exhibits. “It will be refreshed on almost a continuous basis. We want to relate current cultural messages too.
The project is 95% complete. They are just making some “tweaks” on the video and audio components. They hope to open in early spring.