Best Of Tucson®

Best Living History Exhibit

Paths of Life

Arizona State Museum, on the UA campus

STAFF PICK: Summer is a great time to visit the cool, uncrowded Paths of Life exhibit at the Arizona State Museum.

Hailed by the National Endowment of the Arts as a "ground-breaking exhibition that provides a national model for exhibitions on Native American history and ethnography," it depicts Indian cultures as living societies rather than dusty anachronisms, and vividly captures their struggle to protect ancient traditions in a technologically crazed world.

One photo depicts the Tohono O'odham yucca harvest, while another describes the O'odham nation's recent battle for water rights. East Central-Arizona Apaches are shown in traditional villages, and at their Sunrise Ski Lodge. A vibrant mural captures the Yaqui creation myth, followed by a photo of Tucson's New Pascua Village.

These tightly woven stories are told from both indigenous and Anglo perspectives. Strange as it may seem at the close of the millennium, this vital participation by tribal representatives is one of the characteristics making Paths unique among permanent exhibits in the United States.

"We wanted their views on their religions, history and lives today," says curator Bruce Hilpert. "And we tried to break stereotypes." A short orientation discusses this intent, and offers some background about all of Paths' tribes.

Well-lighted hallways first lead to the Seris, whose homeland stretches along the arid eastern coast of Baja, California. Pictures show tribal members fishing and preparing food, while religious objects note their complex blend of Catholic and pagan rituals.

Further along, you'll see life-size Yaqui deer dancers -- fashioned by Yaquis themselves, and modeled after authentic participants, many of whom donated their personal clothing and ornaments. An adjacent video shows the dance being taught to younger generations.

And that's just the beginning, in a stunning display that takes you along cultural trails you've probably never traveled in such detail.

Paths of Life is open most of the year from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, on the UA campus east of the main gate entrance on Park Avenue.