Is a museum a place where cultures go to die, or where they go to live? According to James Clifford, the answer is increasingly the latter. Museums are becoming places of cultural exchange, reciprocity, and contest. They are becoming contact zones, where cultures enter into ongoing relationships. According to Clifford, “When museums are seen as contact zones, their organizing structure as a collection becomes an ongoing historical, political, moral relationship – a power-charged set of exchanges, of push and pull.” 
We in the museum profession are sometimes conflicted between our desire to give other cultures a voice in our institution with our desire to maintain curatorial and interpretive control. The Wampanoag Homsite at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA shows that giving other cultures a voice in an institution can substantially enhance the institution’s ability to accomplish its mission.
The Wampanoag Homesite is quite literally a “living” history site. The interpreters and visitors at the site, as participants in a contact zone, are making history as they preserve it. Not only does the Homesite educate visitors about the history and traditions of the Wampanoag people, but it also serves as a representation of Native People’s contemporary worldview. It allows Natives to display their heritage, as well as to articulate their desire for recognition and respect in the present.
The creation of Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Indigenous Program in the early 1970s was influenced by the cultural movements of the time. During the 1960s and 1970s, Native groups attempted to fight back against the marginalization of Native Peoples in American culture and politics. Although Plimoth Plantation had not ignored the Native perspective, it had previously been told from a European point of view. The Plantation began outreach to the Wampanoag community in the early 1970s, with mixed results. However, by 1972, two Wampanoag tribal members had joined the board of the museum, and by 1973, the Wampanoag Indigenous Program was established. The early years of the Wampanoag Homesite were not without their difficulties. It proved difficult to find Native People with sufficient knowledge of traditional crafts, and the museum had difficulty incorporating the Homesite into its administrative structure.
Today, the Wampanoag Homesite is a thriving part of Plimoth Plantation. Members of the Wampanoag and other tribes demonstrate traditional crafts such as basket weaving and boatbuilding. Unlike the 1627 English village, the interpreters at the Wampanoag Homesite do not portray historical characters. Although they wear traditional clothing, they speak in modern dialect and interact with visitors as themselves. This fulfills the dual role of the Wampanoag Homesite as a place where Native culture can be represented in both its contemporary and historic forms.
There is an extensive Frequently Asked Questions section on the Plimoth Plantation website, which prepares visitors for their encounter with the Wampanoag culture. Some of the questions cover basic cultural sensitivity issues, such as whether it is acceptable to greet interpreters with “How” (it is not), while others are more nuanced, explaining the reasons for calling the Wampanoag “Native People” rather than “American Indians”. This is the nature of a contact zone. Culture is constantly being defined, as each group learns and shares from others. When museums allow themselves to become contact zones, they give up some control, but they gain power and strength by allowing multiple cultures to shape the institution. By doing this, a museum not only enhances its ability to interpret the past, but also becomes able to shape the future.
 James Clifford, “Museums as Contact Zones,” in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 192
 Elizabeth A. Peterson, “Time Travelers Wanted: Re-Imagining the Past at Plimoth Plantation, 1965-1978” (MA thesis, State University of New York at Oneonta, 2009), 45
 Ibid, 52-55
 Ibid, 63-64
 “Wampanoag Homesite Frequently Asked Questions” http://www.plimoth.org/features/faqs/homesite-faq.php