UA’s Oak Native American Ethnographic Collection showcases Indigenous culture


OakGalleryBanner.jpegAnyone eager to sharpen their knowledge, conduct research or simply learn more about Indigenous peoples can do so by visiting the Institute for Human Science & Culture (IHSC), home of the Oak Native American Ethnographic Collection. The IHSC is one of the three branches of the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology (CCHP) at The University of Akron (UA). 

The Oak Collection is on permanent display at the Oak Native American Gallery, which opened its doors in 2019 and is located on the fourth floor of the Cummings Center. On loan since 2010 from longtime UA benefactors Jim and Vanita Oelschlager, the collection is comprised of Indigenous materials from a variety of geographic locations and cultures. The current exhibit includes objects from the Arctic /Subarctic, Pacific Northwest Coast, the Great Basin and the Southwest regions of North America, showcasing cultural tools such as weapons, blankets, basket and ceremonial objects.

One example of an object on display that teaches about the horse’s role as a Native American cultural tool, is a buffalo hide with painted memorials of hunting buffalo. Like the rest of objects on exhibition, its label and chat inform the visitor of tribal association, geographic location, materials and the object’s intended use.

“As stewards of this collection, we are responsible not only for the physical preservation of these objects, but also to the people these objects represent, as well as the public,” says Francisca Ugalde, Institute curator and instructor, who emphasizes the Institute’s prioritization of research to ensure that the interpretation of objects and information about Indigenous people and cultures on display is accurate and respectful.

“We believe it is incredibly important to help educate and reeducate the public, as there is not only a lack of education, but also rampant miseducation about Native Americans. Through this collection, we are tasked with the job of expunging outdated stereotypes and broadening awareness about Indigenous People’s cultures, histories as well as contemporary issues.” The Institute aims to achieve this by creating access to the collection through a public exhibition space that is always free to the UA community and through the development of educational opportunities for students and teachers at all school levels.

The IHSC also offers hands-on educational experiences for UA students, who through comparative, observational and scholarly research efforts, assist staff in developing content for databases and interpretation for exhibitions. Not only do students get the opportunity to hone in their research skills and learn about Indigenous cultures, but they also are exposed to museums and archives tasks, such as proper object handling, preservation methods and general care of collections.

Additionally, and most importantly, it is the IHSC’s goal to be a space that enhances and elevates Indigenous People’s voices and to be a platform from where they can speak for themselves. For this purpose, the Institute has teamed up with the Portage Path Collaborative, the group responsible for the City of Akron’s North American First People’s Day celebrations, which occur every year on the weekend leading up to the first Monday in October. As participants in this yearly celebration, the Institute opens its doors to the public for free programming such as behind-the-scenes tours, Indigenous speakers and access to curator-led Oak gallery tours, as well as showcase the creative works of a featured contemporary Native American artist.

The Institute is always looking for partnerships opportunities that further its goal of educating the public about Native Americans. For educational opportunities, behind-the-scenes and Oak gallery tours contact Institute for Human Science & Culture Director, Dr. Jodi Kearns:

Media contact: Cristine Boyd, 330-972-6476 or 

Story by Beau Balizet