Native Nations and Museums: Developing an Institutional Framework for Cultural Sovereignty
Tulsa Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, p. 3, Fall 2009
22 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2011
Date Written: 2009
This article examines the changing relationships between museums and indigenous peoples over the past two centuries, with a specific focus upon the relationship of American museums to Native peoples within the United States. In the 19th century, the role of the American Museum was to acquire objects that could offer knowledge about natural history or world cultures to facilitate certain public values. With respect to Native peoples, the 19th century practices of American museum often institutionalized a hierarchical relationship consistent with the exploitative tenets of European colonialism and Imperialism. In comparison, modern museums must engage the multiple experiences of the diverse groups that are present within the nation-state, as well as disparate populations across the globe. Groups often disagree about the meaning of the past, as well as the articulation of their contemporary identity. In this respect, modern museums often participate in reshaping public values through the combined processes of repatriation and reconciliation. Through the process of repatriation, museums honor the human rights of Native peoples by transferring possession of ancestral human remains and cultural objects that were wrongfully appropriated in the past. Through the process of reconciliation, museums foster new relationships between Native peoples and the nation-state that more accurately reflect their distinctive historical experience and contemporary identity as separate sovereigns. This article argues that museums have an important role to play in the contemporary effort of Native Nations to assert their cultural sovereignty and reclaim their own histories. Specifically, the article examines the role of the National Museum of the American Indian and the role of tribal museums in fostering tribal cultural sovereignty.
Keywords: Native American, Repatriation, Reconciliation, Cultural Sovereignty, Museums
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