DECOLONIZING THROUGH VIRTUAL REPATRIATION: A NEW VISION OF COLLECTIONS ACCESS
By Monica Shah, Deputy Director of Conservation & Collections
The Anchorage Museum is taking steps towards decolonizing its collections. A new project, Decolonizing Through Virtual Repatriation: A New Vision of Collections Access, moves us farther in this direction through a partnership with Chickaloon Native Village to virtually repatriate images and material culture related to their region of origin.
The project will significantly expand access to items held by the museum, creating new access to digital surrogates, or copies. Newly created metadata will be available online via Chickaloon Native Village’s Mukurtu database and the Anchorage Museum’s online image database. New subject guides related to keywords identified by the tribe will also expand access.
We are excited to announce that the Institute of Museum and Library Services @USIMLS has awarded the Anchorage Museum with a grant to support this multi-year project. Although this is the first large-scale virtual repatriation project undertaken by the Anchorage Museum, it will serve as a model for future relationships.
Museums have moved slowly toward decolonization of their collections; they have been slow to adopt more inclusive methodologies. Few non-tribal museums have made significant changes in collections practices or repatriation of material culture outside of the mandate by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). While tribal cultural centers have long embraced these concepts, only a few museums have moved to reconsider whether museums are the rightful owners of material culture made by Indigenous peoples, or whether collections need to be returned to originating communities.
Indigenous communities have consistently identified a need to bring material culture and archives home. But, true repatriation outside of NAGPRA can only occur if control is also relinquished. Through this project, the Anchorage Museum proposes to take the next step in access, to relinquish power and to support the relationship between the collections and the people who originated them. The museum will host, fund, and virtually repatriate associated collections to the Chickaloon Native Village. The tribe will control what is shared and make decisions about access. Researchers interested in Ahtna communities and the general public will all benefit from this project. However, the Elders and tribal citizens of Chickaloon Native Village will benefit the most, through restoring and rejuvenating traditional Ahtna Dené knowledge and values.
Photographed by H.G. Kaiser, Wennerstrom Collection, Anchorage Museum, B1994.2.3.