Video: Reimagining Museums: Disruption and Change Part 2


Responding to keen interest in last fall’s Reimagining Museums event, we have invited the speakers to return and continue the conversation. (Watch Discussion 1)

As museums acknowledge their legacy as colonial institutions, many are reimagining their mission as agents of decolonization and social justice. The pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and other community issues continue to create opportunities for reflection and growth. How can American museums—especially those that have strong relationships with Indigenous communities—respond to current national conditions of social unrest and political turmoil? How have New England museums fared and what is likely to happen over the next two to three years?

Presented on 2/25/21 in collaboration with the Harvard University Native American Program and the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture.

About the Speakers

  • Chris Newell (Passamaquoddy), Executive Director and Senior Partner to Wabanaki Nations, Abbe Museum
  • Jane Pickering, William & Muriel Seabury Howells Director, Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University
  • Lorén Spears (Narragansett), Executive Director, Tomaquag Museum
  • Moderated by Castle McLaughlin, Museum Curator of North American Ethnography, Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University

Chris Newell is Executive Director and Sr. Partner to Wabanaki Nations for the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine. He was born and raised in Motahkmikuhk (Indian Township, Maine) and is a proud citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township. Chris is a co-founder of Akomawt Educational Initiative, an educational consultancy working with schools, universities, museums, and all areas of education to incorporate Native perspectives in a culturally competent manner. He is an award-winning museum educator dedicated to expanding the presence of Native content and making a better, more informed world for all peoples.  

Jane Pickering was appointed as the William and Muriel Seabury Howells Director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology in 2019. Prior to that, she was Executive Director of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, a partnership of six museums. She has thirty years’ experience working in university museums, including administrative positions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University. During her career, she has focused on the unique opportunities available to university museums for public engagement, through multiple exhibition projects and informal education initiatives. In 2016 she was appointed by former president Barack Obama to the National Museum and Library Services Board. 

Lorén M. Spears (Narragansett), Executive Director of Tomaquag Museum, holds a Masters in Education and received a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from the University of Rhode Island. She is an author, artist, and shares her cultural knowledge with the public through museum programs. She has written curriculum, poetry, and narratives published in a variety of publications such as Dawnland Voices, An Anthology of Indigenous Writing of New England; Through Our Eyes: An Indigenous View of Mashapaug Pond; The Pursuit of Happiness: An Indigenous View, and From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution. Recently, she co-edited a new edition of A Key into the Language of America by Roger Williams. 


Reimagining Museums: Disruption and Change II

[00:00:09.26] [SPEAKS NAVAJO]

[00:00:23.21] Greetings from Cambridge, Massachusetts. My name is Shelly Lowe, and I'm Navajo from Ganado, Arizona. I am currently the executive director of the Harvard University Native American program, and I am a member of the NAGPRA Committee at the Harvard's Peabody Museum.

[00:00:38.36] I would like to thank everyone for joining our event today. Harvard University is built upon the traditional territory of the Massachusett tribe. Its buildings, including the Peabody Museum, continue to occupy this territory. I want to acknowledge and thank members of the Massachusett tribe for their continued stewardship and support of our important work, particularly as we continue to find opportunities for reflection and growth in our individual and collective roles at Harvard. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

[00:01:13.62] I would now like to introduce Castle McLaughlin, curator of North American ethnography at the Peabody Museum, who will begin our program.

[00:01:28.53] Thank you, Shelly. Good evening, and thank you for joining us for part two of Reimagining Museums. Tonight we're going to continue a conversation that we started back in November with three New England Museum directors about how museums are changing in response to broader social and political imperatives and the pandemic disruption. A video of that first session is available on the Peabody Museum's YouTube channel.

[00:02:00.93] So to ensure that we have time to take some of your questions, I'm going to give very brief introduction to the panelists and a brief recap of where we left off. We're focusing on the need to decolonize museums, which is essentially a process of transforming them from institutions created by and for Euro-Americans to sites of engagement with the communities whose tangible cultural heritage is represented in the collections. Last time, we talked about how the European colonization of much of the non-Western world and the disempowerment of Indigenous communities enabled museums to not only collect Indigenous things, but enabled them to establish eurocentric systems of classification and control and interpretive framings that often ignored the presence and input of contemporary Indigenous communities.

[00:03:13.13] Now museums have acknowledged that they need to share authority with descendant communities over whether collections should be in museums, and if so, how they should be cared for and used. And when museums stage exhibits that represent the culture and history of other peoples, it's important to include them in the process and to privilege their first-person perspectives and voices. In addition to describing different strategies for decolonizing museums, in the first session we also talked about the differences between colonial museums and Indigenous museums and the ways that both can be of value to Indigenous people and communities.

[00:04:00.05] Tonight we're going to start with a question about the pandemic, and then we're going to continue to explore other features of decolonization. But first I need to introduce our panel. So back by popular demand, we have Chris Newell. Chris is a member of the Passamaquoddy Nation and is executive director and senior partner to Wabanaki Nations for the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine. Welcome back, Chris.

[00:04:34.04] Jane Pickering is the William and Muriel Seabury Howells director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. Thank you for being here, Jane. And Lorén Spears, member of the Narragansett NATION and executive director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island, which recently announced that through a partnership with the University of Rhode Island, they're going to be relocating to a much larger facility within the next couple of years, which is just terrific. And congratulations, Lorén, on making that happen. And I hope you'll be able to tell us a little bit about that tonight, your vision for the future.

[00:05:25.28] All right, question one. We're almost a year into the pandemic, and it's impacted virtually everything in ways that we probably don't even realize yet. And many museums have had a really hard time, and they've lost visitors, income, had to cut their staff. Some of them are probably going to have to close. But we're always hearing about others that have found new opportunities to transform their institutions internally or to create stronger partnerships with other organizations.

[00:06:03.60] So I'm just wondering how your museums are doing, what you see as the major impact, and whether you see any of those having long-term effects on what you do and how you do it. And Chris, I'm going to ask you to start again, as I did last time, because when I was preparing the questions this time, it occurred to me that you've probably worked very little at the Abbe as an open museum. So most of your career as the newish director there has transpired during the pandemic. So how has that been, and how do you feel that it has impacted the Abbe?

[00:06:50.72] Thank you, Castle. Thanks for that question. And thanks once again for the invitation to be back here, everybody. It's so good to see everyone on the panel. And that's a great question. Those that have been working with me over the last year, it is no secret that I started at the Abbe Museum on March 3, and then we closed the doors on March 13. So we were less than two weeks into my-- I was still getting to know the building.

[00:07:21.71] The procedures-- just a lot of things. I was still in the onboarding stage. And my family was in Connecticut. We hadn't transported everybody up yet. And the way it was happening, I was driving back on Friday, and we had set in the staff meeting the day before protocols for when we would close the museum due to the pandemic. And that Friday afternoon, as I left and was driving back to Maine, I got a text from the staff basically telling me that all those protocols that we had set had just been met.

[00:07:59.25] And so by text as I was driving back home, I closed the museum. And yes, it's not been an easy road. All of the dreams that I had for the partnership work I want to do with our own communities, the Wabanaki communities in the state of Maine, and all the other work that I came on board super excited to get ready to start, I had to put it all on hold. And the focus went from that work of decolonization to really survival.

[00:08:30.97] How are we going to get through this? How are we going to do it without losing staff? The Abbe museum is located on Mount Desert Island close to Acadia National Park. And we're really reliant on the large tourist traffic that comes through Bar Harbor in the summer months. And we were going to lose-- at the time when we closed, we were thinking maybe eight weeks. It was way back. We were so innocent.

[00:08:58.24] We had hopes that we would make it into the summer, and we even made plans to reopen for early July. And none of that came to fruition, as every time we came and predicted a date, as the date would approach, the health data had changed and things had gotten worse. And so by the end of the tourist season, we decided to just stay closed for the rest of the year.

[00:09:23.13] But one of the things that we did do was we made the transition to the virtual realm really, really quickly. And we did it in a big way. One of the first things I had to do was to cancel the Abbe Museum Indian Market. And it was only in its third iteration. We're growing this market, and it's the only juried Indian market on the East Coast. And I'm really trying to grow it, and we had to cancel it.

[00:09:53.71] And as I was looking on my Facebook, I'm seeing all the Native artists, and they're all talking about everything is getting canceled. All the school visits that they would do, all the museum shows, everything. So I'm looking at it, and I'm seeing they're losing all of their income. So when it came to canceling the market, I knew this was going to hurt them.

[00:10:11.90] And so what we and the staff did in just a little over three weeks' time is we converted the live two-day market to a six-hour online live event called Digital AMIM, digital Abbe Museum Indian Market. And we were, just because of the way the calendar works, the first museum to successfully do that, to create a virtual Indian market. And so because of that, we got recognition. People paid attention across the country.

[00:10:39.70] We redid it again with the Native American Festival, and then we started to produce a speaker series on Indigenous methodologies. Now, the downside, of course, is that the in-person experience is just so much more rich. You're going to get so much more out of it. The upside of the virtual world is that you have the potential of a worldwide audience. And we were literally having people watching our events from Australia and Ireland. And for our very small museum off of the edge of the coast of Maine, that's a very, very big deal for us to have that type of reach.

[00:11:13.33] And so that's really a lot of the changes that happened. It's been a struggle financially, of course, but thankfully there has been COVID relief money out there that we were able to obtain. And we were able to squeak by by battening down all of the hatches, basically cutting down energy consumption as much as we could and staying closed and able to keep staff on. And one of the other big changes that happened is that we converted our small gift shop to an online retail shop.

[00:11:44.56] And some of the pieces, especially the art pieces that we had in there that were $200, $300, $400 that have been sitting on a shelf for years started to fly off the shelves, going to collectors in California and all kinds of places like that. So through the virtual world, we have found some success, and especially in increasing our profile in the world of museums.

[00:12:07.81] That's great. But now that you have those fans around the world, they're going to expect or hope that you maintain those virtual platforms going forward, right?

[00:12:19.69] Absolutely. And that's a conversation I've had with many museums. We're not the only museum thinking this way. I'm sure you guys have all had these conversations as well is that the new expectation, whenever we get back to something that is whatever close to normal-- I'm not going to predict what the world is going to look like in the future. But as soon as we get back to in-person visits, the expectation of all museums is to have and continue our virtual offerings. And that's one of the things that we're building into our strategic plan, as well as our programming plan in the upcoming year.

[00:12:51.52] So yeah, that's an expectation. And we were definitely looking to meet it because we can see the benefit of it.

[00:12:58.21] That's great. Lorén, how has it been down in Rhode Island?

[00:13:04.86] Hello, everyone. Very much like Chris. In the same way, we had to pivot. One of our very first programs was the beginning of an author series, and it was the middle of March. So we pivoted to online programming. We, along with everyone else in the world, created all these scenarios of what if. In the end, we decided that we would do everything in our power to keep our staff, which is a small staff, so it maybe is a little more manageable than very big museums.

[00:13:42.52] We did close, like everyone else. We stayed closed till August. In August, we started doing small private tours. We did small private tours from August till November, the end of November. And along with that, we did a lot of online programming. We launched our Strawberry Thanksgiving online. Like Chris was mentioning at the Abbe, we were doing a lot for Native artists. So we did a Native arts contest with prize money.

[00:14:16.63] We flipped our gift shop from in museum to online in July. We did a lot of programming where we were paying artists to be online presenters. So we did a whole series called Quarantine Creatives, where we interviewed Native artists, but we were tying it into what was going on in the world. So they were reacting to COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movements, missing and murdered Indigenous women, the different topical conversation that we were having, so decolonization, all of those kinds of things.

[00:14:56.98] And so we really ramped up our virtual programming. We started a weekly book club. The first version of it in the fall was a sci-fi book club with Indigenous authors. We did our first ever event, our annual honoring, which was our 17th year. We did it last year as an online event. Amazingly, we were very successful. We didn't know what was going to happen when we had to pivot from doing the in-person event, so that was really good.

[00:15:31.69] So we had a really weird year because for as crazy as COVID-19 was and dealing with all the protocols and dealing with the what ifs, we ended up having an interesting year. Of course we pivoted and had PPP and all the different kind of COVID funds that helped us especially in that first little bit. But we had some surprises that happened as well. We were blessed-- the Unitarian Universalist assembly was supposed to be in Providence last year, and we had been selected in January as their Pass the Plate organization.

[00:16:08.87] And because of COVID-19, they went virtual as well. And so people from across the whole country were participating in the programming, which we did a presentation on Indigenous spirituality, and we did different films for them for things. And we ended up raising almost $100,000. It was $95,000, I think, from that fundraiser for Tomaquag Museum, which was instrumental in putting us in a good position for the really exciting stuff that happened to us.

[00:16:45.49] We've been working for about four years on finding a new location site for land, and we created a partnership with the University of Rhode Island that was formally approved, a license agreement in perpetuity, for that acreage for a new facility for Tomaquag Museum. So that started us on the path for that, which was really, really exciting.

[00:17:08.92] And along with that, we did lots of professional development last year. We'd always done it along the way. But I don't know as though we publicized it as well. So when we pivoted to online, we kind of cleaned up some of the stuff on our website to make sure people knew what our online offerings were and what our professional development offerings were. And we've actually done quite a lot of professional development for public schools, districts, as well as other non-profit organizations and museums looking at diversity, equity, and inclusion particularly from an Indigenous lens.

[00:17:50.75] And so that has been actually a really good pivot for us for not being able to do as many of the in-person programming. Even though we're doing schools, there's a lot less schools and youth programs in this last 12 months than would be normal. But we had an uptick in the adult programming, particularly the trainings and programs like that that really take some deep dives where you're spending two or three hours with them. And so that was really good.

[00:18:25.48] So there's been a lot of work that's happened. I would say another really great thing that we did is we revived our Belongings blog that had kind of fallen off the wayside. We'd started it and then got overwhelmed with other things and didn't do it. But when we were all going virtual, that was a good time to start doing that. And we started from the archives to have people have access to the archives and collections of the museum. We were able to create these Belonging blog posts that included audio, video, as well as the blog itself, pictures. And so that was a great way to improve things.

[00:19:04.84] And I would say lastly is also, which I'm sure everybody's doing, is being able to put things on your YouTube after you're done because you're doing it in this format that can be recorded. And then so people could go back and watch all our Quarantine Creatives. They could watch our current author series that we're doing, Author Conversations, as well as other kinds of programs.

[00:19:29.35] Yeah, that sounds like really rich offerings. I'm sure people would like to know, when do you anticipate your new facility becoming reality?

[00:19:41.39] Yeah, so that's, of course, a process. Right now, we're working on architectural and engineering planning, which will be done sometime this spring. And so we're thinking the public campaign will start in the fall, and then we will break ground in 2022 and hopefully move in in 2023. We are doing it in phases. So there'll be four buildings in the end. The museum and the education center are phase one, and the Indigenous empowerment building is phase two, along with the archive and collections research center.

[00:20:20.90] Oh, that's really exciting. Congratulations again.

[00:20:25.56] Thank you.

[00:20:27.25] Jane, what have you been up to, and how have you been keeping your staff busy?

[00:20:34.39] Well, I have to say, Chris, hearing you, that weekend of the 13th of March is coming back into my mind because I think that was the weekend we were all thinking about this. And I remember with colleagues, we started that week with, well, we need to close, and exactly as you said, thinking about what would need to be in place. And by the end, just like, are we even going to stay open on the Saturday and Sunday of that weekend? And sort of as the campus for us was packing up and leaving. So it was sort of a bit of a trip down memory lane there.

[00:21:10.45] I think we, too, have been, obviously like many museums, pivoting online. And it's been really exciting to see what the possibilities have been with that. And so I was thinking-- I guess a special occasion for me is we've always done a summer solstice event, and that's been a huge event where all the museums are open for free, and we have performers, and everyone's outside in the street. And it's sort of a 5:00 through 9:00 so we can watch the sunset on the solstice and a really wonderful program that I love.

[00:21:49.82] And so the great team at HMSC that are behind what we're doing right now behind the scenes put together this wonderful virtual summer solstice. And of course, when you're online, not only do you have audiences from around the world, but you can also bring in people from around the world. So we actually had someone from Stonehenge, so my home country, Stonehenge participate in our summer solstice.

[00:22:19.00] And she actually said, well, normally, summer solstice is the busiest time in Stonehenge, and we could never, ever do something like this. But because they were closed and we were closed, we were able to include that as part of the program. And again, with our Day of the Dead program, we had some artists from Mexico who were engaging in real time as part of that event.

[00:22:41.54] So definitely thinking about that, new sort of time, as Lorén was saying, to do things that you've always wanted to do but never got round to. And so a great new podcast series, which is really cool and I can recommend. And we've also-- I think it's provided a lot of opportunity for museums with online collections databases, so where you have these large collection databases, to actually do some work around those as well, which has been really important.

[00:23:19.14] We talked a little about the Peabody's ethical stewardship initiatives last time. And really spending some time on our database, which is full of historic derogatory language, is really a major piece of our sort of ethical stewardship work. Lack of Indigenous terms, a time to really say, OK, we really need to look through and think about what our online data collections database looks like. So we've had the opportunity to work on those issues as well.

[00:23:58.76] And then I think I just want to say a couple of other things, which is really about all museums. One is I've been really inspired to see how museums that have been able to open-- so we've been shut the whole time-- that really have become community sites. And so you see museums around the country being involved as food banks and sites for vaccination now. And that's been really inspiring to me, seeing museums really focus on their local communities, because obviously people aren't traveling in the same way.

[00:24:33.20] And then also thinking about how everyone is so much more comfortable with doing things digitally. And we've already been saying how programs will probably end up being hybrid online and on site. And I think that can help change some of the things that museums are doing moving forward. And for me, particularly thinking around issues of environmental sustainability, I think, well, maybe we'll be in a situation where we're not handing out paper maps anymore. Because no one really wants things anymore.

[00:25:11.11] I think it will be a while before-- so things will be digital. Tickets will be digital. Maybe instead of having everyone crowding around-- because we're all going to be a little sensitive about being super close to people we don't know-- around sort of signage on the wall, some of that can be done digitally. So I'm sort of looking forward to maybe some of the things that we really needed to do will actually be sort of forded more quickly because of the pandemic.

[00:25:46.81] So trying, as I think Lorén and Chris have both done, to think about the positive aspects against what, of course, has been a devastating time for people and many institutions as well.

[00:26:00.17] Yeah. Well, I must say, Jane, that I think you've also, through your galvanizing of committees to work on various aspects of diversity and inclusion and sustainability and ethical stewardship, you're really reinventing the institutional culture at the Peabody in a way that we wouldn't have had time for without the pandemic. So it's really given us an opportunity to reflect on things deeply and discuss things about who we are, who we want to be, where we're going, and how to get there. So you've really mobilized the staff in that way in a way that nobody's ever been able to do before.

[00:26:50.39] Yeah. And I think that, as you say, the key piece is often having the time. Because otherwise you can take a moment and think about what the museum can do moving forward and I'm sure that's true for everyone as well. So yeah.

[00:27:08.39] We're all on lots of committees and I'll give you the--.

[00:27:12.10] [LAUGHS] Yes. No, which sounds terrible. Universities are terrible about committees. But anyway, yeah, we try and make sure they're doing something and actually getting things done.

[00:27:24.35] OK, well thank you, everyone. Now let's go back to decolonization. And I want to talk a little bit about land acknowledgment. So as part of Shelly's introduction and welcome to this session, she delivered a land acknowledgment. And that is a protocol that apparently originated in Indigenous communities around the world. And land acknowledgments were often delivered when visiting people met to acknowledge the owners of the land and as part of greeting ceremonies.

[00:28:03.59] But in the last few years, land acknowledgments have become a conventional protocol for institutions to deliver, and especially museums, especially to open public events. And they're supposed to be a communication of respect for the original owners of the land and to acknowledge their continuing presence. But they've also been criticized as sometimes running the risk of being sort of empty gestures of virtue signaling unless the institutions are actually engaged in genuine relationship building with the communities that are named in the land acknowledgments.

[00:28:58.43] So they're proliferating. And Lorén actually wrote a much-cited guide to land acknowledgments for the New England Museum Association, in which she called land acknowledgments the first step towards decolonization and the beginning of the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. So Lorén, would you mind addressing the significance of land acknowledgments and why you feel they are the origin or the starting point for decolonizing?

[00:29:41.90] Well, I think of it as a first step because there's so many people that don't even-- they're not even conscious that they're on Indigenous land. And so by entities, whether they're museums or schools or colleges or other institutions, by acknowledging that, you have an aha moment for lots of people that are listening that hadn't even thought about it. In all of our openings, we do our own version of a land acknowledgment, but we give people a link to our blog post about how to create your own, but also to the map,, that helps people. It's not perfectly accurate, but if you don't know anything at all, that's a good place to start.

[00:30:31.92] So I think that why I say it's just a beginning is you really have to do more. It's kind of like inviting Indigenous people into the opening of your exhibit after it's all done. That's too late. And so it's the same thing with the land acknowledgment. If all you're going to do is to do a land acknowledgment, then it's not enough. You need to be creating the relationships. You have to be looking at your policies and practices on decolonization.

[00:31:01.99] You have to look at the work and reflect on the historical trauma that's taken place in these communities and how museums are really complicit in that. And so how do museum take a leadership role in changing or promoting-- I don't know if I like that word-- but creating relationships that promote opportunities for healing. And that's really important. And that means that Indigenous communities, for lack of a better word, advisory councils, are brought in at the beginning of projects that are brought in to reflect on not just the Indigenous project that you're working on, but other projects that often are creating narratives that omit Indigenous people.

[00:32:02.94] And I'm constantly saying-- by the time I'm 100, people will be like, this is all she ever says-- there is no such thing as US history without Indigenous peoples' history. And so therefore there is no content in this country that you can be talking about that we're not part of. And so if you're constantly erasing us out of the narrative, that's a problem as well. And so I think that all of this-- the land acknowledgment is to make an awareness. It's to make an acknowledgment of whose land you're on. It's to remind people we're still here and that we're contributing greatly to this country, that we're vibrant communities that have many gifts, not just cultural to themselves, but gifts to the larger community of the United States or your state and your region.

[00:32:57.94] These are all really important, and they need to lead to actions. Land acknowledgments is the beginning phase of starting to think about what actions are you going to take? How are you going to go about decolonizing the work that you're doing? How are you going to go about making relationships with the Native community? And relationships that are reciprocal, not a relationship that just keeps taking from the Native community over and over and over again for your research and for your project, but also gives back to the Native community as well.

[00:33:30.31] And so I think that land acknowledgments-- I've been on panels where some people are like, we shouldn't even do it. It's too little. And I'm kind of like, no, I think we need to do it because there's too many people just not aware. And they're not aware of whose land they're on. They're not aware of the erasure that's been taking place over hundreds of years. They're not aware of that they are falling into implicit biases about Indigenous people. And those are all the parts that this stops and makes people think about.

[00:34:06.06] What I would challenge people to do is look at-- a land acknowledgment is better than no land acknowledgment. But if you keep going, you can get better and better. At the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies does a land acknowledgment that I think is about one of the best I've heard that's not coming from a Native community that really spoke to the trauma that took place and the genocide that took place but then also brought it into the today about the disproportionality of underserved health and wellness due to COVID-19. They brought it from the past to the present. They spoke to not only the vibrancy of Indigenous people, but also to the difficulties that we have right now in the 21st century. And I think that's really a powerful land acknowledgment when you can do that.

[00:35:03.90] Thank you. Chris, do you have anything to add on this?

[00:35:09.93] Thank you, Lorén. I mean, she's so articulate. I love it. She can get the point across so that I don't have to speak much to it right now. I would agree on all counts that land acknowledgements are, if you're going to engage in one, it is just the first step. And I do help institutions through my business partnership, Akomawt Educational Initiative, work with institutions on the creation of land acknowledgement.

[00:35:36.43] And one of the things I would always like to put out there just to the public is at the Abbe, at Akomawt, we constantly get requests from institutions that say that, hey, we heard you worked to create their land acknowledgement. We're hoping you can work with us. However, the process that they envision is that we write the land acknowledgment and then hand it over to them.

[00:36:04.84] And that's really not the process. And that's not the process that we require of anybody we work with. We tell the institution, it's really up to you to create these words. Because there's something to the process of learning about why these words are important that the institution has to go through itself to make this an authentic experience. And if you don't go through that process, if you just pay somebody to write it for you outside and contract it out, it's really you're just checking a box and saying you're diversified.

[00:36:37.56] And that's kind of a signal that's the only step that you're going to take. So I would always encourage that there's a lot of really good resources, like Lorén's guide to land acknowledgements that are out there that are already produced by Native people that will give you the coaching that you need to create a strong, powerful land acknowledgment. We would encourage you to do it with the input of local Native communities if they're available to you, but that the institution write the words itself so that is really coming from the institution and then help shaped by the communities to make sure that they're being culturally competent when they do so.

[00:37:20.46] I'd like to add one more thing because something that's come up in Rhode Island a lot is the fact of that institutions get so excited about land acknowledgments that the way that they write their land acknowledgement, they include every Native community known to man anywhere in a 100-mile radius. And that takes away the sovereignty of the place that you're actually in. So be aware of that. And if you want to include others because you have a big state and you want to include lots, you have to be aware of how you write it and acknowledging exactly where you are and what you're referencing and whose land you're actually on, like you did with mentioning the Massachusett.

[00:38:04.23] And then if you want to say, and in our state they are, and then continue on. That's been a real issue that's been coming up around the region of people trying to do something good and then at the same time undermining the sovereignty of certain groups and kind of erasing where their lands are by the way they now do the land acknowledgment from these sometimes very big institutions that are not meaning to do that but are doing that.

[00:38:43.36] So as the Native community, sometimes we have to push back on that too to make sure people are not usurping particular community sovereignty.

[00:38:51.99] Yes, I've heard about that too because many people feel that a land acknowledgment should be directed at the specific owners of that particular place, and maybe other kinds of acknowledgments can be done to recognize other communities that are in that area. So does that mean, though, that when you work with institutions, Chris works with institutions that want to develop land acknowledgments, you encourage them to actually communicate with the community that they should be acknowledging? And--

[00:39:33.38] Yes, you definitely want to talk to the community that you're trying to acknowledge. Akomawt is a great place. The Abbe is a great place. The thing about museums and educational institutions is we have that really outward lens. Sometimes tribal nations have an outward lens, and depending on the size and the tribe, sometimes they really don't, and they don't necessarily have someone who's working in that. So that's a great opportunity to use tribal museums, Native-led museums, Native-led initiatives to help you through that process.

[00:40:09.50] OK, great. Jane, did you want to add anything to that?

[00:40:13.91] No, other than we are trying to-- so Shelly gave the acknowledgment that many people at Harvard use for the Massachusett. And that's something that we use at the Peabody too. But I want to say we're also thinking through, just as you said, Chris, I think important to think, what does it mean for the Peabody specifically, given our history, given that we are an anthropology museum. And so we are within Harvard and on the same lands as Harvard but also have this sort of really need to think-- and I love the way you said it, and I think that's going to be really helpful to think about what the words are from the Peabody Museum in that larger picture of the larger institution of Harvard.

[00:41:08.24] Yeah. Well said. OK, well then we'll move on to a question about repatriation, which of course is one of the most important aspects of decolonization but also one that's very challenging. And we talked about repatriation a little bit in the first session in so far as everyone agreed that it's not the answer for museums to return everything to the communities of origin, that there's a value to having some of those things in museums.

[00:41:52.70] But at the very end of the session, Chris brought up the issue of archaeological excavation of human remains and funerary objects. And obviously that was done without the permission of communities in the contemporary time or communities that are extant today. It was a very common practice among archaeologists for a hundred years to not even or minimally consider how Native communities might feel about that because they were driven by scientific aims, and they felt that was the higher cause.

[00:42:39.92] But it's been a controversial issue since at least the middle of the 20th century and was one of the primary motives for the passage of NAGPRA in 1990. And as we discussed very briefly last time, the Peabody has been implementing NAGPRA for 30 years. But at the end of January, there was a kind of bombshell announcement by the president of Harvard, who officially apologized for, quote, "Harvard's role in collection practices that place the academic enterprise above respect for the dead and human decency."

[00:43:26.87] And he announced the formation of a steering committee to inventory human remains across the University and developed principles and policies that would guide research community consultations and possible repatriation or burial. And the impetus for this was the discovery of the remains of five individuals at the Peabody who were African-American, who lived during the time that slavery was legal and could have been slaves. But Bacow also noted that the Peabody cares for one of the largest collections in the United States subject to NAGPRA.

[00:44:11.60] And Jane simultaneously issued an apology on behalf of the Peabody without equivocation, quote, "for not confronting our historic collecting practices and stewardship of all these human remains and for our failure as an institution to face the ethical and moral issues that undergirded the practices that brought them to our museum." And she added the specific and formal apology for the practices that led to the Peabody's large collection of Native American human remains and funerary objects.

[00:44:52.31] So we knew this would come up as a topic of interest for people. And so I would like to give Jane the opportunity to address this and what you think the significance of this, Jane, is going forward and how it might interface with NAGPRA or supersede it.

[00:45:17.99] Yeah, and thanks for giving me the opportunity and for talking about this. And I think Castle's outlined what happened and the apology from President Bacow. And I think-- that statement comes from the University. It comes from us. It comes from the Peabody. And I think it was deeply shocking for many people who were not aware both of the actually 15 enslaved or potentially enslaved individuals whose remains are held in the museum, the sort of history behind that that I think Native nations and tribal communities are very, very aware of, and I think others outside those communities maybe are not as aware.

[00:46:23.38] And so I think what it did was really sort of make it clear that the human remains in the Peabody just demonstrate how our historic collecting practices have caused irreparable harm. They ignored the wishes and the values of families and communities, particularly from people considered to be outside of Western traditions, but really many, many communities around the world. And that we, as we've said in terms of the discussion of ethical stewardship at the last meeting, we've benefited from those colonial and imperial policies. Museums, anthropology museums, were often central to the scientific racism and studies around that.

[00:47:22.58] And so I guess thinking-- it's really, if you think of the issue as whether those human remains should be in our collections, I think the answer to that is very clear. They absolutely should not be there. And so a central focus for us at the Peabody, of course, are the thousands of Native American individuals within the collection and how to continue the work that we've been doing under NAGPRA for so long.

[00:47:56.35] And so we felt-- in 1990, the museum did not formally apologize for its role and its roles in the reasons that there are thousands of ancestors in the collections. So we felt that this sort of more wide-ranging apology from the University as a whole, that this was our moment to actually take it, take the occasion to make a specific and unequivocal apology for the practices that led to that large collection of Native American ancestors and their belongings.

[00:48:38.68] So I have said the facing our history is, of course, essential. We have to face up to that history. And the work starts with a concrete commitment to the return of individuals to fulfill the ethical moral imperative of NAGPRA. And in the same way that we're thinking about the remains of 15 individuals of African descent, that to do that requires thinking about individuals as individuals. And so it takes time. It takes respect, sensitivity, and it's complicated.

[00:49:30.41] And I think everyone who works with NAGPRA, institutions, individuals, sort of would, I suspect, agree with me about that. And issues, I think, that we're particularly thinking about in addition to that commitment to the ultimate goal of repatriation is also thinking about memorialization and where on campus-- how as a university we need to be thinking about these. But I think for the Peabody, it's really our goal is to face that history and to fulfill our obligations, which we have, as I said, have been working under NAGPRA. But I think it was the time for us to really sort of face up and make that apology that was long overdue.

[00:50:25.79] I'm sure everyone appreciates that, Jane. And I do understand that this is a recent development, that the steering committee hasn't probably even begun their work, and that you can't give definitive answers about what might happen. But I can't help but ask, NAGPRA only applies to federally recognized tribes in the United States, and there are many communities that aren't federally recognized and that are elsewhere in the world that also are very concerned with ancestral remains in universities and institutions. So is there a sense that this might open a path towards talking about policies that would make repatriations to other than federally recognized tribes possible in the future?

[00:51:26.43] Yes. Our focus very much is NAGPRA, and we don't want to in any way sort of lose a focus on that. But it is something I think the steering committee is going to be looking at very carefully, and we're going to be closely involved in the work of that committee. And I think as part of our NAGPRA work, and I guess gets to some of that complexity, is for groups that aren't federally recognized in the US. So I think that's part of the complexity of NAGPRA.

[00:52:06.87] But outside the United States, that's something that we will absolutely be considering. It is complicated on a case by case because you have to-- different communities have different wishes around their dead. And sometimes the museum has interrupted the journey, and there's no way for an ancestor to continue on his or her journey. So it's not a simple thing, and particularly not when you're thinking globally. But we absolutely will be working with the committee to think about those issues and think about the fact that we do have individuals from communities around the world, as well as here in the US.

[00:53:03.55] Chris, the Abbe began as an archaeology museum, so were you faced with this legacy as well? Did the Abbe have human remains and funerary objects in the collections?

[00:53:21.82] So that's a great question. This is a problem that's not just the Peabody's problem. The American conservation movement kind of started this practice. And this as you mentioned in the very beginning of this segment here, Castle, that this was just extracting from Native burial sites and collecting and putting in museums or other sites of collection was just the way of archaeology for over a century and centered the sciences versus the living Native communities that these objects were taken from.

[00:53:59.41] And the Abbe Museum is not divorced from that history. We're known for our decolonization work. But what I always tell people is that the Abbe is a colonial museum. We are not going to ever become fully decolonized. That's not the goal that we're after. It's an unattainable goal. It's a constant process that we're going through to look at our practices of the past, of the present, and especially if they are doing harm, to undo those practices to do better.

[00:54:30.94] And I just want to commend Jane here because especially a humongous institution like the Harvard Peabody, with the tremendous weight it has in the museum world, one of the very first steps to undoing these practices is truth-telling. And that's what she's been doing here. So that's a very encouraging sign for those in Indian country that are looking at the Peabody and thinking about these processes is that she is here telling you the truth that there's unequivocably-- having those remains, they just should not be there.

[00:55:11.11] And that's something I believe very strongly as well. The Abbe did have objects that were, through archaeology, in its collection from funerary objects that came from graves. And what happened prior to my arrival is that my predecessor, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko worked with the tribes, and the tribes then created a repatriation committee. And there was a significant amount of power sharing that we did with the tribes in that we allowed the repatriation committee to basically go through the entirety of our collection. And if they identified it as a funerary object, then it was listed for repatriation.

[00:55:52.03] And in that process, 937 objects identified as funerary objects, unassociated funerary objects, have been removed from our collection and repatriated to the communities. Now, that's a great thing for me as a Wabanaki executive director because number one, I don't have to explain any more why these things are there. The process was done already. And I think about the future of museums and the very big underrepresentation Native peoples have. There's a reason why my father's generation wouldn't even go into a museum, much less work for one. And that's because of the housing of human remains.

[00:56:31.45] So we need to create a new workforce of young Native peoples to work in this field. Because it does not benefit us at all to be absent from the museum spaces because our cultures and histories are being interpreted there anyway. But how do I encourage young people to join this field and possibly get a great job at the Harvard Peabody if there's the possibility of a blood ancestor being housed in the collections within that building? And that's the reality of what I have to face when trying to decolonize museums is get more people into the museum work field.

[00:57:15.64] And the housing of human remains, especially Native remains, is a big detractor and really holds back your own institution from being able to really dig into the work of working on the history of Native peoples and really being an inviting space. So the Abbe has changed quite a bit because of that repatriation. I know it's a much bigger project for the Peabody, and this is going to take time. But once again, it begins with the truth telling. And Jane's been doing a lot of that here today. So appreciate that, Jane.

[00:57:54.94] Thank you, Chris. I think Lorén wants to add something.

[00:57:59.60] Yeah, so Chris was saying it very well, but museums are-- the entity itself is a colonial structure, and it's founded on conquest. It's about greed. It's about entitlement. It's about power. It's about the creation of or dehumanizing of Indigenous communities, reducing us to relics and curiosities and kind of the salvage paradigm. There are no longer-- so we're going to celebrate these items and we're going to study these people, but they're not going to call us people. They're going to call us skeletons and things like that so that they're disconnected from the humanity in order to justify the actions, making us less than human to justify the actions of keeping human remains.

[00:58:55.64] In my opinion, there's absolutely zero reason any institution should have human remains in a museum. And it's just not acceptable. And I think the notion of either we're all dead and gone so they're going to study us kind of notion, or we're less than, so it's OK to study us as well. And that's not acceptable. It's just different strategies in order to create opportunity that that's OK when it's not OK.

[00:59:33.56] And I always just flip it around. Would you want that to happen to your family, to your parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, your family? And that's what's happening to ours. So that's something that really needs to just stop. I'm happy-- I know know if that's the right word, but I'm happy that they're acknowledging that this is a wrong and that they needed to apologize for it. And I'm looking forward to how expeditiously they can move that forward to put these people back in their communities and laid to rest. It may not be in the way in which it was intended, but being wherever they currently are is certainly not allowing them any spiritual peace.

[01:00:18.84] Yes. Thank you all for addressing this very sober and emotional topic. And I don't want to end on a really somber note. We do have time to take a few questions. And I'm going to take the liberty of relaying a question that several people have submitted, which is, what can non-Native people do to help support Indigenous museums, or any museum, for that matter, or encourage them in decolonization practices?

[01:01:03.62] We've had several viewers write in and want to know what they can do to further this process. So what would your advice be?

[01:01:19.58] Well, when it comes to museums and decolonizing practices, if you're a museum with a Native collection, it really benefits you to have Native decision makers in your structure. And that's one of the things that I point to. The Abbe, once again, is a colonial institution, so there's this history there. But the changes that we made were not just to the content of the museum. It was to the governing structure of the museum as well.

[01:01:50.09] And that's not the stuff that you see show up in the newspapers and things like that. But the Abbe Museum board went from largely all MDI, or Mount Desert Island residents, which surround the town of Bar Harbor, to being over half Wabanaki now. And that's a mandate. And we also have another mandate to be advised by a Native council. And the council members are two appointees from each of the living Native communities within the state.

[01:02:20.59] So the Abbe Museum has no say over who the communities appoint to that Native council to advise me and the Abbe on further decolonization practices. So if you want to help, look at the structure of power and look at how you can make that equitable towards Native people. And put Native people in the realm of the decision makers. Because that is really where the rubber meets the road when it comes to decolonization work and undoing harms is really sharing that power and putting the power back to Native peoples to control our own histories and how we present them and exhibit them.

[01:03:03.17] Thank you for recapping that, Chris. I think I didn't frame that accurately because I meant to say from the perspective of someone who doesn't work in a museum but is just out there and is concerned about these issues and wants to encourage decolonization and wants to become an ally to the process and to Indigenous communities. How could they best use their energy for that?

[01:03:34.64] So when you're visiting a museum, the thing that they can do, too, is ask questions. Like who participated in creating that exhibit? Whose voice is being uplifted in that exhibit? Even a third-person museum can have first-person voice in an exhibit. And so I think that those are things that they can look to and push for, looking for-- I agree with Chris 100%. And I even think that the average passer by visitor can push on this as well.

[01:04:12.04] If they're going into exhibits that are representing diverse communities, they should definitely ask the question, do any of the people that you're representing, the ethnic groups, are they on your committees? Are they on your board? Are they in your staff? Where are they? That's important. I think those are questions that they can ask as well to push back on that in thinking about decolonizing.

[01:04:42.22] And also thinking about words. Words and the way that they're used is a big part of decolonizing as well in the exhibit space and the education space.

[01:04:52.27] Yeah. And honestly, I was truly thinking about not the visitor to the very large museum. And I should have framed this myself. The Northeast is full of historical societies, smaller museums and places like that. And that literally on the town level, you can get on the board of your historical society, and you can start making a difference there. And that's what I mean about getting into the power structures. I mean you can start with your own local historical society and then start to spread that message outward to the regional historical societies or other places of conservation within your area.

[01:05:31.27] And to Lorén's point, she brought up another thing. We're speaking in the English language right now. And when it comes to talking Native history, that's always a shortcoming that comes along with that, and especially when it comes to the way we teach history. Words like "frontier," whose word is that? It imagines a line where something called civilization was behind it, and there was just wilderness and forests on the other side, when meanwhile there was millions of people and bison on the other side of that, where that line was actually a line of destruction coming towards their way.

[01:06:06.59] So re-examining some of the words and the way that we talk about history-- even a word like "wilderness" sounds like such a benign term in 2021. Is truly is. However, back in the days of European discovery, people lived in civilization, and the animals lived in the wild in Europe. That's what the mindset that they were bringing over. And then when they came and encountered the cultures here living as part of the system of what we now call the wilderness, rather than living in dominion over it, they were dehumanized. They were less than human because they did not live as civilized as they did in Europe. They did not separate themselves from the animals.

[01:06:51.46] And so that was a way that you could, through the doctrine of discovery, plant a flag in a place and say it wasn't occupied because the people that were there, that they obviously saw and were interacting with, were less than human because they were part of the wild. "Savage" comes from sauvage, which means of the wild. So in the early days of colonization, "wilderness" was actually a word that was used to dehumanize and to dispossess Native people of land.

[01:07:19.03] So these are things that we can look at actively and decolonize our own thinking and the language that we use and the way we describe things. And just understand that we're talking in English. We're talking in a colonized language here, and there's always going to be shortcomings. And we can always update our language.

[01:07:37.48] That's great answer, Chris. Thank you. Lorén, many people have written in and asked if you could repeat the name of the institution that you said had a really wonderful land acknowledgment.

[01:07:53.02] The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. I serve on their board.

[01:07:58.60] OK. Thank you for that. And then--

[01:08:00.79] I didn't help with their land acknowledgment, though. I'm new to the board, so I thought it was a very good land acknowledgment.

[01:08:06.19] OK. Thank you for repeating that. A Native American museum professional writes in and wants to ask Chris and Lorén what strategies you've found to be successful for engaging Native communities with your museum. And Chris had just mentioned that many Native people are reticent about museums. But are there ways that you've found to engage people and draw them into the life of your institutions?

[01:08:47.32] That's my biggest mission now, now that we're looking, hopefully, to the end of the pandemic and getting back to being open, is I have a dual title. I'm executive director and senior partner to Wabanaki Nations, which means in my job description, I have a duty to partner the Abbe Museum with the living Wabanaki communities. That's literally my charge. Because of the pandemic, I haven't been able to do a lot of that work, but we have been starting those engines up once again.

[01:09:17.07] And I just had a meeting with the Native council last week and started to discuss with each of them, what are their individual community needs that the Abbe can serve? And that way I can plan within the Abbe's budget how to make those things happen at no charge to the communities. Because if we're going to house the histories and cultures and arts of Wabanaki peoples, there really should be, as Lorén mentioned, a sense of reciprocity. There has to be an equitable relationship. And the Abbe has to give of itself, not just extract from the communities and put things in our collection and then show them off.

[01:09:53.86] We need to give of ourselves back to those communities. And so because of the structure change, because of the power change, I have that ability, and we have that the connection with the Native council to already do that. And that's my next biggest thing on my list is to really make these things palpable so that they're real and they're lasting longer than me, way past my time at the Abbe Museum, that this is just the way that the Abbe Museum is going to be doing things from now on is through that.

[01:10:30.40] Now, is it difficult? Absolutely it is. I mean, there are a lot of people that say, [RASPBERRY] what's the purpose? This does not do me any good. They're in Bar Harbor. How is this going to affect me? And so this is really where I have to be very, very giving, to the point where I'm saying, this is what I'm looking to do within your community. I'm looking to come here, and I'm looking to talk about old names of nomenclature, when we started to take on French names and the way we converted them into Passamaquoddy.

[01:10:58.57] All of these little things that our kids-- that I learned as a child from my elders, that would be applicable to the children in that community. We can really-- the Abbe Museum can create those panels and exhibits that can be put in the schools there. And so the Abbe has a constant presence. And that has twofold. Not only does it teach, but it is hopefully going to inspire these young students to become the next Wabanaki conservators. So the Abbe's in a better position than most for this work because of the groundwork that was laid ahead.

[01:11:37.54] And it takes years. And I'll tell you that as well. So you've got to be patient, and you've got to work on the clock or the timeline of the communities, not your timeline. You can't say that I want this done by this date. No, you have to go by the community's timeline. And as the elders in our community used to talk about time, when one of the younger ladies would ask one of the elderly ladies, how long do you cook this recipe? The answer was, you cook it till it's done.

[01:12:07.62] It's really about that. You've got to work on these things until it's appropriate. And then you cook it as long as it takes till it's done.

[01:12:18.26] Thank you. Lorén, did you want to build on that?

[01:12:21.33] Sure. I think we have a little difference. Even though in our very founding we had an anthropologist by the name of Eva Butler, but for the majority of our 60-year existence, we've been a Native-led organization, and so we've had a lot of voice in the structure and the creation of this museum and how it has evolved. So I think that we spend a lot of time in that. But how we continue to connect and bring in the Native community is really through our Indigenous empowerment program, utilizing that lens to help support the Native community to help to break down the systems of poverty, to create job training and job opportunities, not only at our small museum, but in our myriad of partners to create educational opportunities, to do entrepreneurship, to create leadership training and development through internships and apprenticeships, to uplift Native businesses and artists and youth in all kinds of ways.

[01:13:38.32] So we're constantly bringing-- even though we're technically closed to the public, right now we have three Native interns, two interns and one fellow that are working with us, one that's working directly in the archives as a master's degree student or post-master's degree student. And he'd been an intern as a student that we have back, and then two others that are both bachelor college students now, juniors and seniors. And so we're constantly doing things to try to help and empower the Native community by giving them opportunities like to be in the series Quarantine Creatives or in an art contest.

[01:14:24.71] Our art show, we're partnering with the Rhode Island Council on the Arts and the Warwick Center for the Arts on a Native art show in August. That's supposed to be in person. I don't know how it's all working, but we're working on it. And those are the kinds of things that we're constantly facilitating to create opportunity for the Native community.

[01:14:45.95] And as we're going along, we've had lots of Native people in our forums giving ideas around exhibit and exhibit design to keep increasing the input of Indigenous people. Our board is a majority Native. Our staff is a majority Native. So we have that representation within our own organization, but we're also always looking to the whole Native community in Rhode Island to have input, and really in southern New England as well. We don't really put the boundaries there if they're connected. Because tomorrow I'm working with a whole group of folks that are a mixture of Connecticut and Rhode Island Indigenous people that our projects [INAUDIBLE].

[01:15:27.47] Thank you, Lorén. Yeah--

[01:15:29.83] I just want to add one more quick thing. Lorén just reminded me also, when you create material, co-create with the communities. All the exhibits are co-created with Wabanaki curators and things of that sort. And that's another great way to engage involvement and share power.

[01:15:51.96] That's the same thing. We do projects, like we did this book was a book that was done with the Native community. Through Our Eyes, an Indigenous view of Mashapaug Pond. We had children up to elders that participated in that project. So we do a lot of those kinds of projects as well, getting Native voice out there and using Tomaquag Museum and its relationships to create that vehicle.

[01:16:18.09] You're just-- I'm speechless at your passion and energy, Lorén. But I was going to mention that you said earlier that you're inviting people to comment on the design of your new museum. And if people go to the Tomaquag website, are they able to connect to that?

[01:16:42.54] They sure are. On our homepage, we have a link that links you right over to the survey, where it's open until March 1. So if you want to participate and give us some feedback on what you'd like to see in a bigger Native museum in Rhode Island. We're the only Native museum in Rhode Island, so it would be nice when people are visiting from wherever they're visiting from that they could come to Tomaquag Museum. They can give us ideas of what kinds of themes and topics they'd like to hear about.

[01:17:11.22] So we're really excited about it, and we're going to keep inviting people to be part of the process. We had focus groups in the fall as we're doing these sort of wider, bigger concepts. But we'll have more of them and more surveys as we start to make some sense of this process over the next year.

[01:17:30.84] Great. So that's one way that people that are interested could become engaged with your institution. So I'm going to have to-- this week, Lorén has to go to another meeting. We've gone 14 minutes past 7:00. We could go much longer, but this has been a really rich and terrific session. So thank you for coming back. Thank you for your passion and your speaking from the heart about so many difficult things.

[01:18:07.83] I guess we will say good night. I hope we can meet again soon. Be well. And thank you to the viewers for joining us this evening. If you have questions you really would like to see answered, send them to the museum and we'll try and relay them to--

[01:18:28.08] Yeah, I did notice, but I got kicked off a couple times, so I lost the question section, that a couple people also sent me a direct message that I didn't have a chance to respond. So if they want to email me at, I'm happy to answer it later.

[01:18:45.19] Thank you. That's great. All right, good night.

[01:18:49.71] Good night, everyone. Thank you.

[01:18:51.52] Thank you.

[01:18:52.29] Thank you again.

[01:18:53.79] All right, good night, everybody.

[01:18:55.23] Good night.