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NYC Museum of Natural History under fire for shuttering Native American exhibit — then abandoning it to gather dust

The American Museum of Natural History’s shuttered Native American displays are merely gathering dust 4 months after being shut — and tribal teams say it is “stonewalling” over repatriating treasured objects.

In January the Manhattan museum’s new director, Sean Decatur, shuttered the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains exhibit halls that displayed artifacts from its Native American collections.

At the time the museum stated it acted to adjust to new federal laws giving museums 5 years to adjust to a 1990 legislation which ordered establishments to hand again human stays, sacred objects and cultural gadgets to native teams.

A woman looks at a display of mannequins behind glass in Native American costumes
The American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan shut down its Native American shows in January, saying it was to adjust to new Department of the Interior guidelines designed to pace the repatriation of tribal objects. J. Messerschmidt for NY Post

The shows, which stretched over 10,000 sq. ft. and included spears, instruments and mannequins sporting headdresses and conventional clothes, had been a fixture for 57 years.

Decatur stated they didn’t “respect the values, perspectives and indeed shared humanity of Indigenous peoples.”

The new guidelines from the US Department of the Interior tells museum administrators to present inventories of their artifacts and seek the advice of with native teams to both return the objects or search permission to show them.

That consists of any human stays, which the AMNH acknowledges it has in storage and which can have been acquired by means of the looting of sacred burial websites. Other gadgets had been acquired from non-public collectors.

An empty museum with two mannequins in Native American costumes behind glass and to the right glass cases showing Native American objects.
This is a component of the now-shuttered Hall of the Great Plains, which the museum’s new boss closed in January. J. Messerschmidt for NY Post
A mannequin painted to represent Native American face paints.
This is one of the displays from the Hall of Eastern Woodlands on the Manhattan Museum of Natural History which is now gathering dust. J. Messerschmidt for NY Post

But Native American teams instructed The Post they’ve heard nothing from the museum about returning gadgets — not even a listing of what the establishment holds — regardless of its Cultural Resources Office saying it has begun consulting the 574 federally acknowledged tribes, in addition to Native Hawaiian teams, state-recognized tribes and bands and different Native American teams.

The museum instructed The Post the objects which had been on show stay the place they had been, however with the doorways on the galleries locked.

According to the pinnacle of the Association of American Indian Affairs, a Maryland-based non-profit that represents native teams throughout the nation, the museum has 2,039 Native American human stays and three,884 funerary objects which might be thought-about sacred.

“They have been among the biggest, most horrible holdouts of all of the institutions, and they are still woefully out of compliance,” stated AAIA’s chief govt and legal professional Shannon O’Loughlin.

A museum diorama appearing to show Native American people inside a large circular tent structure
This diorama utilizing authentic Native American costumes and objects was half of the Hall of the Great Plains exhibit. It is now shuttered however tribes say they haven’t been instructed something a couple of session on repatriation. J. Messerschmidt for NY Post
A museum exhibition showing Native American costumes on mannequins.
The now-shuttered Hall of Eastern Woodlands centered on tribal teams from what’s now the jap US and Canada. J. Messerschmidt for NY Post

Harvard University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Chicago’s Field Museum have additionally been sluggish to act, she stated.

“I have yet to hear from them,” stated Crystal C’Bearing, deputy director of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Wyoming.

“We would like an updated inventory about what they have in their collection. We deal with a lot of museums, and they have been among the worst and really slow to respond. We’re waiting.”

Max Bear, the tribal historic preservation officer of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma instructed The Post that he has been making an attempt to get data from AMNH for not less than a decade.

A model of Native Americans apparently erecting a circular structure.
The shows additionally included diorama portraying Native American life, and (prime left) gadgets comparable to dolls. J. Messerschmidt for NY Post

“Under the new… rules, we need to start a consultation process,” stated Bear. “They have a lot of human remains in their collection, and they might not know where they came from. They might not know where most of their collection came from.”

“I reached out regularly to the museum, asking for an inventory,” stated a member of the Kiowa Tribe in Oklahoma, who didn’t need to be recognized.

“My feeling is that the museum just doesn’t know where to start in compiling their inventory. The collection was in bad condition, undervalued and under-maintained. I refused to take my children to see it when I was in New York.

“One of the problems is that their egos are so large that they just won’t admit that they have no idea about the artifacts in their collection,” stated the Kiowa Tribe member.

Shannon O'Loughlin, head of the Association of American Indian Affairs.
Shannon O’Laughlin, the pinnacle of the Association of American Indian Affairs, slammed AMNH for its non-compliance on repatriation points up to now. LinkedIn

O’Loughlin, of the Association of American Indian Affairs stated they had been “starting to see a change” with Decatur, a former president of Ohio’s Kenyon College and a chemistry professor, who took over from longtime AMNH president Ellen Futter, who had dominated over the establishment since 1993.

She took house almost $12 million in her final 12 months on the helm of the museum, which included deferred compensation, in accordance to federal tax filings.

The repatriation course of started in 1990 with the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which established guidelines for museums throughout the nation to return sacred objects and human stays to tribal nations.

But the method has dragged on for a long time and in December the Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland — the primary Native American to maintain the function — revealed the brand new guidelines to pace the method up.

Sean Decatur, president of the American Museum of Natural History.
Sean Decatur, the brand new president of the American Museum of Natural History has promised to seek the advice of with native teams about repatriation. He took over because the museum’s president in April, 2023. Getty Images for the American Museum of Natural History
Ellen Futter, former president of the American Museum of Natural History.
Ellen Futter dominated the American Museum of Natural History for a long time. She took house almost $12 million in compensation in 2022, the final 12 months she served because the museum’s president. Patrick McMullan by way of Getty Images

Interior Department paperwork stated museums and different establishments had “fallen short” in repatriating Native American gadgets.

A spokeswoman for AMNH instructed The Post, “There are no updates at this point.

“The objects remain in the closed halls as next steps are decided on a case-by-case basis.”

The final recorded repatriation was in 2021, when the museum stated it gave again greater than 120 gadgets, together with ceremonial objects, to the Tohono O’odham Nation in southwestern Arizona.

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