New Director Has Vision For Grand Village

NATCHEZ, MS (AP) — Lance Harris will use his love for history to grow the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

         Harris, a native of Laurel, took over as director of the Grand Village in January following longtime director Jim Barnett's retirement in June 2014.

         "I think (Barnett) did an exceptional job of laying out a good foundation here," Harris said. "The things I'm interested in seeing is pushing this particular site out more to the public, and if there is any way we can upgrade the grounds, the facility or the exhibit and make it expand."

         Harris worked as a collections manager at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum in Baton Rouge from 2003 to 2008. From 2008 to 2013, he worked as a director of curatorial services and director of the Louisiana Department of State, where he oversaw 17 museums throughout the state.

         All of which led him to Natchez.

         Since the age of 15, Harris would travel to Natchez to attend the Natchez Powwow, an annual event that takes place at the Grand Village to celebrate Native American History and culture — an event that he has only missed once.

         "When I was in high school, I became immensely interested in American Indians and their culture," Harris said. "I started going to Powwows and being around American Indians."

         Harris took his love for American and Contemporary Indians to the University of Southern Mississippi, where he received a degree in history and anthropology and completed coursework toward a dual master of arts degree in history and anthropology.

         Harris said his work boils down to two things — interpretation and preservation.

         "I'm excited about both aspects," Harris said. "I have a lot of experience from my past work doing both of those things.

         "I love being able to help keep something into perpetuity, but also explain its past and its history and give that information to the general public in a format they can easily comprehend and understand."

         Growing up, Harris was always geared toward history.

         "My appetite for history, since I was a teenager, has grown exponentially over time," Harris said. "If I'm watching something on TV and it interests me, I'll immediately have to research it and know more about it."

         Harris and his wife Nicole want their two children, Amélie, 4, and Roan, 4 months, to find a hobby and turn it into a strong passion— but he does not want to push them into something they may not like.

         "My parents didn't try to push too many things on me, and that's what I plan to do with them," Harris said.

         Grand Village interim site director Ron Miller said he was excited to welcome Harris to the position.

         "(Harris) brings a combination of education, museum experience and interest in American Indian culture that uniquely qualifies him for the position," Miller said.

         Grand Village Historian and Educator Coordinator Becky Anderson has enjoyed working with Harris thus far.

         "He's very easy to work with, and he's a nice, likable guy," Anderson said.

         Anderson said the Grand Village is looking to make a lot of changes to the programming and events in the next few years with Harris leading the way.

         The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, a National Historic Landmark, is open here each day to visitors, except holidays.

         The 128-acre village site features a museum, a reconstructed Natchez Indian house, and three ceremonial mounds. The museum exhibits artifacts excavated from the site and sponsors public education events and activities.

         Historians say Grand Village is the only site that was still being used as a ceremonial site when Europeans arrived.

         In 1682, the French explorer LaSalle met with the tribal chief of the Natchez Indians, but the Natchez soon found themselves caught in the conflict between France and England, according to historians.

         After the French began to seize some of the Indian lands, historians say the Natchez Indians attacked Fort Rosalie in 1729, killing most of the French soldiers there. In response, the French slaughtered most of the Natchez, selling a few hundred into slavery while others fled to live with the Cherokee and Creek tribes.

         – by AP/ Reporter Devonte Demby with The Natchez Democrat

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