Respecting Indigenous Heritage

Cleveland Museum of Art Adapts Display Practices in Light of Federal Law

In response to recent updates to the federal law governing the display of Native American artifacts, the Cleveland Museum of Art has made adjustments to its exhibits, reflecting a commitment to honoring Native American heritage.

The museum, renowned for its diverse collections, has chosen to conceal certain Native American artifacts from public view. This decision stems from the revised 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which imposes new guidelines on how cultural items can be displayed.

Acknowledging the importance of respecting Native American tribes and the provisions of NAGPRA, the museum released a statement outlining its approach. “Out of respect for the Native American tribes and NAGPRA, the CMA has covered the display cases that contain items that might fit the new NAGPRA definitions until the appropriate determinations can be made and, if necessary, consents obtained,” the statement reads.

Marie Toledo, a board member of Lake Erie’s Native American council and an advisory board member for the museum, commended the museum’s response. She emphasized the significance of museums adhering to guidelines and praised the proactive measures taken by the Cleveland Museum of Art.

However, Toledo also expressed the pain she feels when viewing Native American artifacts, knowing the tumultuous history behind their acquisition. She highlighted the importance of recognizing the violent and genocidal manner in which many artifacts were obtained.

Philip Yenyo, representing the American Indian Movement of Ohio, echoed similar sentiments, expressing concerns about the lack of respect shown to Native American ancestors and burial sites. While acknowledging the museum’s steps in the right direction, Yenyo believes more consultation with Native nations is necessary.

The Cleveland Museum of Art assured the public that they are diligently reviewing their records to determine if consent has already been obtained for certain items. The museum emphasized its commitment to respecting Native American tribes and complying with NAGPRA regulations.

In a full statement, the museum outlined its efforts to secure consent from relevant parties and ensure compliance with the updated regulations. Despite challenges posed by the short timeline between the issuance and implementation of the new requirements, the museum remains dedicated to upholding the integrity of Native American heritage.

As discussions continue and consultations take place, the Cleveland Museum of Art remains committed to evolving its practices, prioritizing the voices and concerns of indigenous communities.