American Museum of Natural History closing 2 Native American halls amid new federal regulations

Crystal Cranmore Image
Monday, January 29, 2024
American Museum of Natural History shutting down 2 Native American displays
Crystal Cranmore has the latest on how new federal rules instruct museums to treat exhibits on Native American tribes.

UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- The American Museum of Natural History is shutting down two massive halls dedicated to the history and culture of Native American tribes.

The move comes in the wake of new federal rules governing how museums treat exhibits on the tribes.

It's the final day the artifacts inside the museum will be on display - at least for now.

It's about time, this is long overdue.
Chief Harry Wallace

Leaders announced it will be closing the galleries dedicated to the Eastern Woodlands and the Great Plains to comply with the updated federal regulations that require museums to get consent from the tribes before displaying cultural items.

Museum President Sean M. Decatur sent a letter to staff on Friday, saying in part:

"We remain committed to supporting teaching and learning about Indigenous peoples. While the actions we are taking this week may seem sudden, they reflect a growing urgency among all museums to change their relationships to, and representation of, Indigenous cultures."

Harry Wallace is the chief of the Unkechaug Indian Nation on Long Island.

"It's about time, this is long overdue," Wallace said. "I've been to some of these museums, some of these institutions, and there is no way that anyone would, any nation would, consent to allow these items to be displayed."

The federal regulations give institutions five years to repair human remains and related funerary objects for repatriation.

"The old regulations, it was easy way to evade a responsibility for repatriation, because they had an item called unaffiliated artifacts or affiliated remains and an associated funerary objects," Wallace said.

Wallace says there are other ways to learn about the history.

"There are a myriad of ways where the history of our people could be demonstrated," Wallace said.

That includes pieces of artwork that have been granted consent by tribes and available for collections.

For now, it remains unclear when the galleries at the Museum of Natural History will reopen.

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