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The complicated relationship between museums and Native Americans


News Summary

On Dec. 1, 2020, the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society hosted an online panel discussion with five Indigenous scholars and curators about the “complicated relationship” between museum institutions and tribal communities.

Over the past 30 years, museums have learned to engage with tribal communities more directly in the stewardship of their cultural materials. Federal mandates around the repatriation of human remains and objects of cultural patrimony have prompted museums to consult with Native communities and recognize Native protocols in their work. But differing ideologies of care and collaboration between museum institutions and tribal communities remain a source of tension.

Today, the role of Indigenous curators, collection managers, and educators includes not only the maintenance of multiple standards of care, but also of relationships—with colleagues, institutions, and community, both living and ancestral. The panelists considered the concrete ways they uphold and implement Indigenous museum practices in their research, curation, and pedagogy.

The discussion panel included: heather ahtone (Choctaw/Chickasaw), a senior curator at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City; Miranda Belarde-Lewis (Zuni/Tlingit), an assistant professor at the University of Washington and an independent curator; Elizabeth Hoover (self-identified Mohawk/Mi’kmaq descent), an associate professor at UC Berkeley; and Nina Sanders, a Neubauer Collegium visiting fellow and curator of the recent Apsáalooke Women and Warriors exhibition.

The panel was moderated by Teresa Montoya (Diné), a provost’s postdoctoral fellow in UChicago’s Department of Anthropology, and presented as part of the Neubauer Collegium's Director's Lectures series.