HOUSTON - Houston is one of ten major U.S. cities with a large Native American population, but it's also lacking places to honor that heritage. However, a change is in the works during November’s Native American Heritage Month.
Chance L. Landry, a Lipan Apache, from what is also known as “The Big Water People”, switched from a career in geophysics to historical paintings.
“I would get comments like, ‘oh, we thought y'all were extinct, or y’all are so mixed, y’all no longer exist.”
In 2012, she opened the Southern Apache Museum inside of Northwest Mall to educate the public. Over time, the haven of artwork and donated artifacts also became a community center.
“It started attracting Native Americans from all walks, from all over Houston,” says Landry. “I had drummers come in there and practice singing and drumming, and practice their traditional dances, and we had all kinds of classes - basket weaving, dream catcher making, we made medallions.”
But the mall closed in 2017 leaving the museum homeless. Landry eventually reached out to the Houston mayor's office for help.
Through a collaboration with Landry, the City of Houston, and virtual architectural design company, INVI, the first virtual Southern Plains Museum and Cultural Center for Native Americans was launched in mid-November.
The site offers global access to a tour of Native American history with language samples, cultural relics, and meanings behind traditions and more.
It's also a safe way to interact during a pandemic that has taken elders of local tribes.
“We've had some close friends that have gotten the coronavirus, but they survived it. But then again, I've had a lot of others that didn't. It seems like every week, somebody has passed away,” says Landry.
The new online museum, which honors Native American heroes who have passed, is also paving the way for an in-person project.
“That garden- it's going to be an indigenous garden, and we're going to sell the fruits and vegetables that we grow there- things that came from America that the Europeans had never seen,” explains Landry.
She hopes online donations will lead to breaking ground in 2023.
“They deserve a museum. They deserve a cultural center. They deserve a place where they can go and have a powwow,” she says.
“It's going to be a mecca where all Native American Indians can come and see, ‘Wow, look at what Houston has done’!”