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Pennsylvania Governor Proposes to Overhaul the State University System

The management of the American Natural History Museum announced on Friday the closure of two crucial halls housing original American artworks. This move is a stern reaction to the new federal regulations, mandating museums to seek permission from indigenous communities before displaying or researching cultural artworks. In a letter sent to employees on Friday morning, the museum’s president, Sean Decatur, stated, “We are closing the halls that represent an era when institutions like ours did not honor the values, perspectives, and shared humanity of the original residents.”

The museum is currently examining its extensive collection to ensure compliance with the new federal regulations implemented earlier this month. Consequently, it is closing the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains dedicated halls by the end of this week and covering several other exhibits. Approximately 10,000 square feet of display space in the prestigious Upper West Side museum in Manhattan will be inaccessible to the public, showcasing original American cultural artifacts. The museum has expressed its inability to provide a specific date for reopening modified exhibits.

Decatur stated in an interview, “Some items may never return to display as a result of the consultation process.” While working on developing more internal programs to educate visitors about the nature of museum processes, they face the challenge of concealing curator exhibitions nationwide while attempting to determine what can still be presented under the new rules. Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology declared it would remove all artifacts from display, the Field Museum in Chicago covered some exhibits, and the Cleveland Museum of Art covered a few displays.

Federal Laws Accelerating the Return of Native American Artifacts

The Biden administration has undertaken significant efforts to expedite the repatriation of original American bones, burial objects, and sacred artworks, resulting in amendments to existing laws. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which established guidelines in 1990 for museums and institutions to return human remains, burial artifacts, and other properties to indigenous communities, has seen revisions. Indigenous representatives have criticized this law for its slow progress and weak institutional resistance.

The implementation of the new federal regulations this month aims to prepare institutions for a five-year grant to assist in repatriating all human remains and relevant burial artifacts. During this process, indigenous communities are granted more discretion. Mayra Masieal-Zamora, an archaeologist and curator for the Pequot Band of Indians, stated, “Finally, it is being heard—it’s not a fight; it’s a conversation.”

She claimed to notice a change in the tone of discussions within two weeks of the new rules taking effect. While determining which contemporary tribes will receive the artifacts, she mentioned that the institutions previously viewed oral narratives from indigenous residents as less credible than scholars’ research. However, institutions must now “honor the traditional knowledge of Native Hawaiian organizations, Indian tribes, and Native Alaskan entities” under the new law, said Masieal-Zamora.

Museum Preparedness for Impact of New Rules on Original American Exhibits

For months, museum administrators have been preparing for the enforcement of the new rules. Discussions with curators and attorneys, lengthy meetings, and considerations about what to hide or eliminate have taken place. In order to comply with the new regulations, several institutions intend to involve employees in consultations, necessitating prolonged meetings with tribal officers. As a result, some of the country’s leading museums have undergone a significant transformation in how they handle original American exhibitions, which will be apparent to tourists. Mohicans, Arapahos, Cheyennes, Iroquois, and other tribes’ portions of the collection used to educate students are temporarily unavailable at the American Natural History Museum.

Incorporating significant objects such as the Menominee-crafted Birchbark Canoe in the Eastern Woodlands Hall and smaller items like Hopi Katsina Dolls and darts from present-day Arizona, which can be traced back to 10,000 BCE, this collection is expected to undergo reevaluation due to the inaccessibility of these extensive halls. Decatur explained, “There is a perception that museums connect some people to the earliest narratives of the world, which might be alienating for some.” However, he emphasized that museums excel when presenting developed ideas.

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