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Museum of Natural History closes two Native American exhibits in light of federal guidelines

Sand Hill Indian Historical Association

The Museum of Natural History has closed two Native American exhibits in line with new federal regulations that require museums to get consent from tribes before displaying certain items.

Claire Garland, a Sand Hill Native American, is director of the Sand Hill Indian Historical Association, which works to educate people about this Monmouth County tribe. She said the exhibit at the museum didn’t paint a true picture of Native American life.

“The portrayal of the different tribal nations was just very harsh and negative, the faces that they chose, the masks that they chose, it was just almost like a foreign alien,” she said.

Museums around the country have been doing the same thing, but 4.5 million people a year visit this museum, and almost 10 thousand square feet of exhibition space is now off limits.

Over about 30 years the museum has returned the remains of about a thousand people to tribal groups but it still has the remains of some 2,200 Native Americans.

"I think a number of things in these museums were probably not obtained in the most legal or ethical manner and so the effort is to return things to whom they belong,” said Garland.

Much of the human remains in museums comes from grave robbers and archaeological digs that cleared out Indigenous burial grounds. Last year the museum said it would remove all human remains from public display.

“Native American people were civilized, they were farmers, they had huge gardens and orchards, and they were cultivators of the land,” Garland said.

Museums around the country have been covering up displays as curators scramble to determine whether they can be shown under the new regulations. The Metropolitan Museum of Art said it has removed roughly 20 items from its musical instrument galleries.

Janice Kirkel is a lifelong award-winning journalist who has done everything from network newscasts to national and local sports reports to business newscasts to specialized reporting and editing in technical areas of business and finance such as bankruptcy, capital structure changes and reporting on the business of the investment business.