Native American Groups React on Covering Native Displays

Native American Groups are Supporting New Regulations Which Require Museums to Receive Their Consent on Displaying Native Art.

Feb 8, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Chicago’s Field Museum,Native American Groups
The Field Museum inside. Via Wikipedia


Native American groups are supporting new federal regulations on handling Native art and culture. Overall, the regulations mandate that museums obtain permission before displaying specific cultural artefacts and human remains. This followed many cultural institutions in the US last week’s closure of Indigenous object exhibits. Among these institutions are the Field Museum and American Museum of Natural History.


Native American Groups Say Regulations are Crystal Clear

Chicago’s Field Museum, Native American Groups
Via the museum.


Besides these institutions, Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and the Cleveland Museum of Art a few days later, used a similar strategy. The Association on American Indian Affairs’ head, Shannon O’Loughlin, said covering up exhibits or removing items isn’t the aim. Instead, it’s a step in an extremely lengthy procedure of repatriating them.


The new regulations are crystal clear now: institutions do not own much of their Native collections. Therefore, they must ask for consent from affiliated nations before they can do anything with these items. When institutions actually have a conversation with affiliated nations, they finally learn what they have in their collections”, she said.


Chicago’s Field Museum, Native American Groups
(Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)


The legislation only permits the return of Native American artefacts to their original owners if a museum or other organisation can demonstrate that they obtained permission. The National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institute is exempt from the statute. The rules are an extension of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which Republican President George H.W. Bush signed into law in 1990.

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Are New Regulations Violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

Two New York Museums, Self-Employed Creatives
The American Museum of Natural History. Via Wikipedia


The Native Governance Center stated in a social media post that NAGPRA originally took effect almost thirty years ago. Also, that the progress is “incredibly slow” toward the restoration of about 96,000 human remains. Nevertheless, “changes to the law this month have already created some real short-term changes across the U.S.”, the organization said. Professionals and academics working in museums often expressed worry that the new rules may hinder or restrict research or suppress scientific inquiry.


Elizabeth Weiss, an anthropology professor at San Jose State University, authored a recent op-ed in the City Journal. She asserted that the rules “depart completely” from the initial law’s purpose. Also, that it could violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Many NAGPRA backers claim there is no basis for the alarmist statements made by Weiss and other detractors. They also noted that adherence to the new rules does not imply that Native American-themed museum exhibits will be permanently closed.


zapotec funerary urn
Zapotec Funerary Urn, Zapotec, 200-700, via American Museum of Natural History


“This is not a prohibition against research or exhibits—quite the opposite”, O’Loughlin says. “Institutions have long-lasting relationships with those Native Nations and have developed strong exhibitions and research based on that consultation and collaboration, which includes the expertise and knowledge of Native Nations that science has ignored”.

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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.