Chicago’s Field Museum Alters Native Displays Due to Regulations

Chicago's Field Museum Covered Exhibits of Native American Cultural Artefacts, Due to Change in Federal Laws.

Jan 14, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Chicago’s Field Museum
The museum inside. Via Wikipedia


Chicago’s Field Museum covered exhibits of Native American cultural artifacts, due to changes in federal laws. These new regulations saw the announcement in December, and went into effect on January 12. Overall, the new regulations mandate museums to obtain permission from tribesmen, prior to displaying items from their collections, connected to their ancestry.


NAGPRA Act Update

Via the museum.


Everything starts with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Republican President George H.W. Bush signed them into law in 1990. The update requires museums to ask permission from tribes descendants or native Hawaiian groups to exhibit human remains and other holy important objects to the history. Also, the museums now have to better supervise the curation divisions and personnel that work with Indigenous artefacts to preserve and exhibit them.


They need to comply with the new regulations soon. They will be enforced by the U.S. Interior Department and take effect on Friday. Within the next five years, museums—including art galleries and university collections—must update their inventory of human remains and related funerary objects in compliance with the new regulations. Decades of ongoing hostilities over repatriation existed between tribes in the US and the organisations keeping Native American remains.


(Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)


Tribal leaders and proponents of repatriation recently criticised the 1990s restrictions’ adherence. They also contended U.S. museums and colleges long leaned on inner bureaucracy to confuse contacts with tribal leaders, prolonging the return procedure. Additionally, the revised regulation states that organisations are no longer permitted to label certain remnants in their possession as “culturally unidentifiable”.

Chicago’s Field Museum First to React

The Na ‘Aikane o Maui Cultural Center, destroyed by the Lahaina fire on Aug. 8, 2023. Photo Credit: Angie Diaz Photography

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It looks that The Field Museum is the first to declare in public that it complies with the new rules. In a statement, the museum said some displays in the Robert R. McCormick Halls of the Ancient Americas and the Alsdorf Hall of Northwest Coast and Arctic Peoples had been covered.


“Pending consultation with the represented communities, we have covered all cases that we believe contain cultural items that could be subject to these regulations”, the museum’s statement read. “The Field Museum does not have any Native American human remains on display”. Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology has not yet disclosed its plans for how it would react to the new rules. Also, how it prepared for them.


The first English settlers at Jamestown, Virginia meeting with the Powhatans in 1607, via Virginia Places


“We appreciate the difficult work and coordination the department has undertaken to make vast and meaningful changes to shift the burden of NAGPRA compliance to where it belongs—to federal agencies and museums”, one tribe said.

















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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.