Indigenous Collections Care Guide
The ICC Working Group is creating a Guide, which will provide a framework to respect and recenter collections stewardship practices around the needs and knowledge of Native American and Indigenous community members. The language and tone throughout the Guide reflect the intention to offer guidance. It is not our intention to instruct or prescribe. You will not find instructions on specific care needs or practices as those vary by community and, in some cases, within a community.
In August of 2023, The Indian Arts and Research Center (IARC) at the School for Advanced Research was received an Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grants for Museums to help fund the creation and extensive review process for this Guide. At the conclusion of the project in 2026, 175 tribal community representatives and museum professionals will have had a voice in the development of the guide, which will be made freely available for tribal community representatives and museums of all sizes. For more information about the IMLS grant awards, please visit here.
Marla Taylor (facilitator), Curator of Collections, Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts
Laura Bryant (facilitator), Anthropology Collections Manager and NAGPRA Coordinator, Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Laura Elliff Cruz, Head of Collections, Indian Arts Research Center, School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico
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Values within the ICC Guide
1. Seek pathways to healing through establishing trust and collaboratively developing new practices. Recognize and acknowledge the colonial systems that led to the acquisition of collections and the ongoing practices that continue to affect their access and care.
The discomfort on all sides can be an opportunity for education, growth, and restorative justice. Recognition and healing can begin through nurturing relationships on any level. Respectful and meaningful collections stewardship, as suggested in this Guide, can be one pathway to healing.
2. Shift the power dynamic so that Tribes as sovereign nations have agency and intellectual authority over their cultural items.
Actively seek, respect, and incorporate appropriate protocols and language from Tribes in collections care and access. Establish a baseline of care while developing these relationships and individual care needs, which will often differ among communities.
3. Prioritize Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing and redefine the concept of “expert.” Acknowledge, invite, and welcome differences in perspective, values, and framework.
This includes stories, oral histories, and oral traditions. Understand and respect that knowledge and access are privileges, not rights, especially where culturally sensitive materials are concerned.
4. Engage in meaningful consultation and collaboration with communities in all aspects and phases of collections stewardship.
Consultation is the first step to implementing any form of culturally appropriate care. Be transparent, open, educatable, and adaptable. Collections reviews offer opportunities for transparency and to discuss many of the topics throughout this Guide.
5. Focus on cultural continuity instead of preservation.
Many existing collections stewardship practices prioritize Western ways of knowing and caring for collections and items. Centering cultural continuity affirms the life of cultural items and their ongoing relationship to their communities rather than focusing on physical stasis.
- Preface and Acknowledgements
- Core Values
- Key Terms
- Relationship Building
- Indigenous Community Engagement with Collections
- Formalizing Shared Stewardship
- Facilitating Access
- Ethical Research
- Handling and Housing
- Spiritual Care
- Risk Management
- Catalog Records and Databases
- Associated Documentation
- Image Protocols
- Reproductions / Imitations
- New Acquisitions and Found in Collections
Each section will include statements and considerations reframing these components of collections stewardship practices to address and prioritize the needs and knowledge of Native American and Indigenous communities. A robust appendix with case studies, templates, and examples will complement these.
If you or your organization have any related case studies or examples that may be a helpful reference to include, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.