Museums throughout the world hold important collections of Alaska Native material culture. How can museums add Indigenous stories, perspectives and voices in exhibition and collection spaces? How can community members better access the material belongings that museums hold?

The Alaska Native Cultural Heritage and Artistic Sovereignty in Museums project seeks to develop opportunities for Indigenous creative intervention in museums while supporting material culture documentation through a curatorial fellowship program.

Are you interested in a learning how to be involved in this work?
Please contact The CIRI Foundation to find out how you can partner on this new initiative.

Images courtesy of the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center,
photographed by Wayde Carroll.

This survey was conducted in the fall of 2021 to gather feedback about how Alaska Native peoples use and think about cultural representation within museum spaces. This information was gathered as part of the Alaska Native Museum Sovereignty initiative. TCF appreciates everyone who took the time to complete this survey.

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Indigenous Curatorial Fellowship

The CIRI Foundation is pleased to announce a partnership with the Anchorage Museum to support a Museum Sovereignty fellowship program in 2023. During this project, fellows will be invited to work with the curatorial and collections department. Fellows will gain hands on experience in museum work, while contributing new ways to add Indigenous perspectives to the museum field. The program will also seek to strengthen relationships between the Museum and Indigenous communities through sharing and collaboration.

Access to Alaska Native Collections

The CIRI Foundation is pleased to announce a partnership with Museums Alaska to support the Access to Alaska Native Collections project. This program responds to the needs of the Alaska Native artist community for access to Alaska Native collections in museums by supporting research visits to museum collections storage in Alaska.

Please contact Museums Alaska to find out more information about this project.

 

Protocols for Working with Alaska Native Communities: A Guide for Museums

The protocols that guide how material culture is cared for within Alaska Native communities varies but are often based on principles of respect for Indigenous cultural knowledge and ways of being. The CIRI Foundation is working with an advisory circle made up Alaska Native scholars and community members to develop a guide to share best practices for museums to follow to respect Alaska Native cultural practices.

Does your community have protocols in place that museums should follow when caring for material culture? How can we encourage museums to be more accessible and welcoming to Indigenous people? What should museums be aware of when engaging in community outreach in Alaska? If you have ideas to share, please reach out to The CIRI Foundation and learn how you can be involved at tcf@thecirifoundation.org.

Museum Sovereignty Advisory Circle:

 

  • Sven Haakanson Jr., Ph.D. (Sugpiaq), Professor of Anthropology and Curator of North American Anthropology, University of Washington
  • Aaron Leggett (Dena’ina), President, Native Village of Eklutna, Senior Curator, Alaska History & Indigenous cultures, Anchorage Museum
  • Tanya Lukin-Linklater (Alutiiq), Artist and Doctoral Candidate at Queens University
  • Judith Dax̱ootsú Ramos (Tlingit, Kwaashk’í kwáan clan from Yakutat), Assistant Professor, University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • Melissa Shaginoff (Ahtna & Paiute), Independent Artist & Curator
  • Haliehana Alaĝum Ayagaa Stepetin (Unangax̂), Ph.D. Candidate in Native American Studies, UC Davis
  • Erin Gingrich (Koyukon Athabascan and Iñupiaq), Artist
  • Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Koyukon Athabascan and Iñupiaq), Artist
  • Nadia Sethi (Alutiiq), PhD, Art Historian and Journey to What Matters Program Director, The CIRI Foundation

Tips for Visiting and Researching Museum Collections

Did you know museums can sometimes provide access to collections beyond what is available to see within a museum exhibition or gallery? A visit to a museum’s collections storage area can be a rewarding experience and having access to collections of Indigenous heritage materials is your right. This document is intended to provide tips for visiting and researching museum collections for Alaska Native community members.

  1. Research what you want to see ahead of time.Many museums have an online catalog of collections where you can search collections by culture group or region. Find out if the museum you plan to visit has an on-line catalog available to begin your research. When searching a museum’s on-line database, you may find that museum collections are sometimes misattributed or lacking information. If you find errors in collections records, share your findings with museum staff so that corrections can be made. In some cases, museums do not have a collections database that is accessible to the public. If this is the case, you can reach out to the museum to ask for additional information about what is contained within collections. You may also ask for digital copies of collections records and photographs. Here are examples of searchable museum collections databases: Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
  1. Connect with museum staff: Prior to organizing a visit to a museum, you may want to contact the museum to introduce yourself. If you are hoping to access collections that are not on display, you should plan to let the museum know when you would like to visit, who will accompany you, and the goals of your research. The museum may be able to assist you with organizing a visit and accessing collections and collections’ records. Some museums have staff dedicated to helping provide access and may be accustomed to working with Indigenous people. If you are able to provide details about what you would like to examine in the collections prior to your visit, this will help give museum staff time to plan for your visit and pull items for viewing if needed (be aware that some materials may be stored off site and may not be accessible at the museum’s primary site). If there are materials that you do not want to encounter during your visit (such as human remains or associated funerary materials, or shamanic materials), share your concerns with museum staff. Note that some museums may require planning for a collection visit a few months in advance. Some museums may not be well equipped to accommodate special access for visitors to collections area, but it is always a good idea to ask.
  1. Museum policies and rules: Each museum has unique guidelines and policies about visiting collections. Find out what is required for the specific museum that you would like to visit. Note that food and beverages are typically not allowed in collections spaces to keep the space clean and to prevent pests. Museums may require museum staff to be present during your collections visit for safety reasons.
  1. Handling collections: Some museums may allow you to handle material with or without gloves, while other museums may not allow materials to be physically handled, or will require that you to wear gloves if handling collections. In some cases, wearing gloves may be required for your own protection, as collections may have been treated with pesticides such as arsenic, led or mercury. Wearing gloves will also help to keep collections clean and well preserved for future generations.
  1. Documenting your visit: Bring materials to help record your research such as a notebook and a camera. Be sure to keep track of the museum catalog numbers so that you have them available for future reference. When examining an object, you may want to consider the following: What materials are used? What techniques were used to create it? How does the piece relate to other objects, or stories?
  1. Museum Environment: Museums tend to be climate-controlled spaces (temperature, humidity, light and filtered air). Plan to dress appropriately so that you will be comfortable in this environment.
  1. Taking care: Visiting with ancestral objects can be a very rewarding experience. Give yourself plenty of time for your visit to appreciate your time. Once your visit is complete, consider sharing what you have learned with others.

If you would like assistance with organizing a museum visit, the Museum Sovereignty program may be able to help.

This page is inspired by and adapted from the School of Advanced Research’s guidelines for collaboration.

A Journey to What Matters Program Director Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi shares what the  Alaska Native Museum Sovereignty initiative means in this article for the Arctic Arts Summit.

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