Field Museum Alters Cultural Galleries in Response to Updated Federal Regulations
Why are some display cases in this gallery covered?
The Field Museum has covered several display cases in the Robert R. McCormick Halls of the Ancient Americas and the Alsdorf Hall of Northwest Coast and Arctic Peoples, which display cultural items from Native American communities throughout the United States.
Recent updates to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) now require consent from lineal descendants and/or affiliated Native American Tribes or Native Hawaiian Organizations (NHOs) in order for Native American sacred objects, objects of cultural patrimony, funerary objects, and/or human remains to be on view.
Pending consultation with the represented communities, we have covered all cases that we believe contain cultural items that could be subject to these regulations. The Field Museum does not have any Native American human remains on display.
What is NAGPRA?
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) addresses the repatriation and disposition of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations. Learn more about NAGPRA.
What is repatriation?
For museums and institutions with cultural collections, repatriation is the process by which important cultural items and human remains are returned to their lineal descendants or descendant communities.
The Field Museum follows the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) for domestic repatriations. We also give full consideration to repatriation requests for the return of human remains and associated funerary objects from culturally affiliated descendant communities or lineal descendants when NAGPRA does not apply. Learn more about repatriation at the Field Museum.
What are the recent updates that led to these cases being covered?
In December 2023, the U.S. Department of Interior made a number of changes to NAGPRA regulations, including an update “requiring museums and federal agencies to obtain free, prior and informed consent from lineal descendants, Tribes or NHOs [Native Hawaiian Organizations] before allowing any exhibition of, access to, or research on human remains or cultural items.” Read the full updates.
These display cases have been covered because they contain cultural items that could be subject to these updated NAGPRA regulations. There are no Native American human remains on display at the Field Museum.
How does the Museum currently work with Indigenous communities on its exhibitions?
The Field Museum is committed not only to compliance with NAGPRA but to consultation and collaboration with affiliated communities whose heritage is represented in our galleries.
In recent years, we have changed the way we create our exhibitions and moved to prioritize a model of co-curation that seeks collaboration with affiliated communities. In May 2022, we opened Native Truths: Our Voices, Our Stories, which dramatically reimagined the former Native North America Hall by working with Native American community advisors and partners representing more than 100 Tribes. Chicago’s Legacy Hula also represents a meaningful and productive co-curation process with the Aloha Center of Chicago.
What will happen next with these cases?
These display cases will remain covered while Museum staff continue to review existing information about these items and contact affiliated Tribes and NHOs for their input.