It was 60 years ago this year when the first group of our elders came together to talk about forming a group that would organize to represent this thing called interpretation. Rey Carlson of Indiana University was the host, and Bradford Woods was the location. This initial meeting led to other gatherings that eventually led a few years later to the founding of the Association of Interpretive Naturalists. About this time, a group of like-minded interpretive siblings on the west coast of the U.S. had similar desires and founded the Western Interpreters Association.
By now, most heritage interpreters, NAI members or not, have likely heard various stories of those early years. Faded photographic images make their rounds in related textbooks, videos and other historical venues giving us an idea of what it looked and felt like in the beginning. So many great names have been associated and identified with those old meetings. So many more names are not so well known, but their contribution to our evolution is real. The reality is that there have been so many that have been a part of our “Tribe”. So many stories about so many adventures exist in our rich history. So many in our past have done so much in this thing called interpretation, which is usually both a vocation and an avocation. So many good people before us have and so many good people currently are “doing” good, and some great, interpretation.
And yet, looking at our 60th year, and looking at all we have done as an organized group of interpreters, we may have ultimately failed in our effort. We may have done great things “at” our profession, but how have well have we done things “for” our profession? I am afraid, that question might not yield a very gracious picture.
In our 60 years, tens, perhaps hundred thousands of the tribe have motivated, provoked, excited, and advocated for our universe’s historical, cultural, natural and physical resources. We have connected many people with the inherent stories of existence on this earth and emboldened many to broaden their perspectives on their lives.
But what have we done for our profession? Have we elevated the status of our Tribe in our respective work places? How much more are heritage interpreters respected in agencies or organizations? Is heritage interpretation in the mainstream of management objectives of resource agencies? How much in the public lexicon do we find “heritage interpretation?” Do members of the Tribe feel more secure about their status because of NAI?
Here is the question I raise – should we not be better recognized, compensated, or appreciated after 60 years of organized existence? Reality seems to indicate that, despite all of our apparent success, organization and growth, NAI has not been a forceful enough voice for the Tribe.
Do not fret as all is not lost. We can still build on the foundation established by our predecessors. We can and we must take the initiative now and elevate the global status of heritage interpretation. But we must do it now! I propose that we look at the next 60 years and direct our efforts to excel our professional progeny to better the status of the Tribe. We do not want to look back and make the same assessment we are making now. It is time to change.
Here is how we can do it. NAI is actively mapping out the strategic future of our Tribe. I suggest that NAI make a focused, purposeful and directed effort to develop, advance and promote heritage interpretation into the mainstream of everyday life. For this, we must establish NAI as the voice to advocate for heritage interpretation and heritage interpreters. It must be NAI’s purpose to empower interpreters to become a stronger voice as advocates for our cultural, natural and global resources. NAI itself must be empowered to be the advocate and activist source for interpreters and interpretation.
The time is right for us to pull the pin on the proverbial grenade of growth and prominence to enter a new era of what our elders came to imagine in 1954. It is time to raise our voices!
May the Tribe increase…. no… May the Tribe Evolve!
Cem Basman, PhD, CIT, CIP
NAI Vice President for Administration