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National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)

Machel Monenerkit, Acting Director

In 1989, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) was established by an Act of Congress transferring the distinguished collections of the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, to the Smithsonian Institution. The mission of the museum is to advance knowledge and understanding of Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere—past, present, and future—through partnership with Native people and others. The museum works to support the continuance of culture, traditional values, and transitions in contemporary Native life.

As a source for research, the National Museum of the American Indian offers not only one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Native American objects in the world, but also significant archival, photograph, and film and video collections.  The museum’s research programs are essential to its operation. The professional staff is concerned with exhibitions, public programs, and educational programs as well as collections research and other curatorial duties.  Discussions, seminars, and symposia support the exchange of ideas among national and international researchers and the general public. Publication opportunities are available through exhibition and collection-related catalogues as well as scholarly books that explore the history and significance of Native cultures and offer Native perspectives.

To complement its research programs, the museum offers educational opportunities, interpretive programming, and hands-on workshops for the general public, families, and school groups at facilities in Washington, D.C., and New York City.  NMAI’s Education Office offers professional development for educators, and creates teaching materials for classroom use.  The museum’s Cultural Arts programming provides opportunities for   visitors to experience the living arts, lives, and concerns of Native peoples through performances by artists, musicians, dancers, actors, writers, and storytellers as well as film and video programs.  NMAI’s Film and Video Center (FVC), located at the George Gustav Heye Center in New York organizes the biennial Native American Film and Video Festival, one of the country’s longest-running Native film festivals.  The FVC’s bilingual (English/Spanish) website, http://www.nativenetworks.si.edu, offers a wealth of information about Native media.

In addition to the Smithsonian fellowships, NMAI provides educational opportunities through its own internship and fellowship programs. These programs are designed for students interested in the museum profession and related programming. They offer exceptional guided work and/or research experience using the resources of NMAI. Placements can be made at any of the museum’s three facilities. To learn more about these opportunities or to apply, please visit our website, http://www.AmericanIndian.si.edu.

Facilities

The George Gustav Heye Center (GGHC), located in the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City, opened to the public in 1994. The GGHC hosts exhibitions, music and dance performances, films, and symposia. It also houses the museum’s internationally recognized Film and Video Center.

The Cultural Resources Center (CRC), a state-of-the-art facility in Suitland, Maryland, houses the more than 800,000 objects in the museum’s collections and serves as a hands-on research center for Native and non-Native visitors.

The museum on the National Mall, opened to the public in 2004, in Washington, D.C., is the museum’s major exhibition space—offering three floors of permanent and changing exhibitions. The building is also a center for performances, films, special events, and educational activities.

Collections

The NMAI’s collections holdings total approximately 1 million items, organized as four major collection categories. While discrete, the collections are intertwined: each contains items that refer to and document one another: the Photo and Media Archives include images of NMAI objects in use in Native communities or in excavation contexts and the Paper Archives includes fieldnotes and accompanying documentation for all aspects of the collection.

Object Collections

There are more than 840,000 items represented by 270,000+ catalogue numbers, divided into Archaeology, Ethnology, and Modern and Contemporary Arts. The collections represent all major culture areas of the Americas and almost all tribes of the United States, most of those from Canada, and a smaller number from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Chronologically, the collection includes artifacts from the Paleo-Indian period to contemporary art. Object types range from the strictly utilitarian to masterworks of Native American art.  Many are of great historical or aesthetic importance.

Photographic Archives

There are approximately 324,000 images documenting nearly all aspects of Native American life from the mid-nineteenth century to the present as well as images document Museum of the American Indian and NMAI events, exhibits, staff research, expeditions throughout the hemisphere, repatriations, and behind-the-scenes work. Media Archives (approximately 12,000 items) document Native American life in North, Central, and South America; NMAI events, exhibits, behind-the-scenes work, and objects; Native-produced media created from the late 1800s through the present.  The collections include museum production materials, including raw footage, finished productions, research recordings, and recordings of NMAI events.

Paper Archives

There are 1522 linear feet of records that date from the 1860s to the present preserve the documentary history of the NMAI, its predecessor, the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation (MAI), and their collections as well as other materials, including the organizational papers of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and related papers.

Museum Scholarship 

The Museum Scholarship Group (MSG) conducts original research and provides curatorial support for scholarly publications, exhibitions, and educational programming and provides museum staff with substantive factual and culturally appropriate information in the multidisciplinary field of American Indian studies. The disciplines of history, anthropology, geography, and art provide cohesion and context for the museum’s diverse programming. In keeping with the museum’s unique mission, research focuses on Indigenous perspectives, and includes active and reciprocal engagement with indigenous communities to ensure that research is not only balanced and equitable, but also empowers Indigenous peoples to exercise authority over their own cultural expression.

Staff undertakes research on NMAI collections, material culture, museum history and interpretation, research and collaborative methodologies, individuals associated with the collections, and other subjects.  The museum seeks to coordinate the overall improvement and enhancement of all NMAI collections information, set and maintain information standards, and make collections information accessible to staff and all external constituents.

Also part of the Museum Scholarship Group, the Repatriation Office, formed in response to the National Museum of American Indian Act (Public Law 101 185), handles repatriation requests; coordinates community visits; prepares research reports; and makes recommendations regarding repatriation and deaccession to the Board of Trustees. The goal of the museum’s repatriation policy is to support the continuation of ceremonial life among Native peoples; to foster and support the study by Native peoples of their own traditions; and to forge consensus between the museum and Native communities while accounting for and balancing the interests of each.

Research Staff

Ash-Milby, Kathleen E., Associate Curator. B.A. (1991) University of Washington; M.A. (1994), University of New Mexico. Research specialties: Contemporary Native American art with an emphasis on non-traditional art forms including new media, painting, sculpture, installation and photography. Contact: AshMilbyK@si.edu

Curet, Luis AntonioAssociate Curator, Ph.D. (1992) Arizona State University. Research Specialties: Caribbean and Mesoamerican archaeology, ceramic analysis and social and cultural change. Contact: CuretA@si.edu

Ganteaume, Cécile R., Associate Curator. B.A. (1979), M.A. (1994) New York University. Research specialties: North American ethnology and material culture, especially Apachean and Southeastern material culture; MAI-HF and NMAI ethnographic collections history; symbolic anthropology. Contact: GanteaumeC@si.edu

Her Many Horses, Emil, Associate Curator. B.A. (1979) Augustana College; (1995) Loyola University, Chicago. Research specialties: Northern Plains Tribal Arts. Contact: HerManyHorsesE@si.edu

McMullen, Ann, Curator. B.A. (1981) Dartmouth College; M.A. (1990), Ph.D. (1996) Brown University. Research specialties: Native American ethnology, history, and material culture; ethnohistory; indigenous historiography; history of museums; history of ethnographic research and collecting; 20th-century Native American art/craft; invention of tradition/cultural revitalization; ethnicity, identity, and material culture. Contact: McMullenA@si.edu

Penney, David W., Associate Director for Museum Scholarship. B.A. (1979) New York University; Ph.D. (1988) Columbia University. Research specialties: Native American art and art history; museum practices, interpretation, and administration. Contact: PenneyD@si.edu

Sanger, Matthew, Curator of North American Archaeology. PhD and MPhil, Anthropology, Columbia University; MA, Anthropology, CUNY Hunter; BA, Religious Studies and Anthropology, Colorado College. Research interests: Native North American history and material culture; indigenous philosophies, exchange systems, and technological innovation; pottery; metallurgy. Contact: SangerM@si.edu 

Seig, Lauren, Research Specialist. B.A. (1991) University of Florida; M.A. (1996) University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Research specialties: U.S. archaeology, repatriation.

Smith, Paul Chaat, Associate Curator. (1973) High Point High School. Research specialties: Popular culture, museums, 1970s U.S. political activism, romanticism, contemporary art, photography, history. Contact: SmithPC@si.edu

Affiliated Research Staff

Matos, Ramiro, Research Associate. B.A. (1959), Ph.D. (1962) University of San Marcos, Lima, Peru. Research specialties: South American archaeology; Andean archaeology, ethnology, ethnohistory, and cultural continuity; Inka culture and ethnohistory; grassroot community development in the Peruvian central highlands. Contact: MatosR@si.edu 

Trautmann, Rebecca, Research Specialist. B.A. (1996) University of Texas, Austin. Research specialties: Modern and contemporary Native American art; Plateau baskets. Contact: TrautmannR@si.edu

History and Culture

Research Staff

Adams, James Ring, Senior Historian. B.A (1966) Yale College; Ph.D. (1983) Cornell University. Research specialties: Contact period and impact on European political theory, as determinant of subsequent legal and ideological framework for interaction with Native population; Emphasis on 16th century Spanish debate culminating in Valladolid disputation; 17th century English religious and economic exploitation culminating in John Locke; 18th century French narratives culminating in Jean-Jacques Rousseau; pre-Columbian contact in the American Northeast and Greenland and tribal strategies for coping with newcomers. Contact: AdamsJR@si.edu 

Delaney, Michelle Anne, Assistant Director for History and Culture, B.A. (1987) Manhattanville College; M.A. (1991) George Washington University; Ph.D. (2018) University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Research specialties: American visual culture and the history of photography, Native American photography, Daguerreian-era photography 1839–1860, 19th- and 20th-century art photography; White House photography and photojournalism; mass entertainment in America and Wild West shows, including advertising images and posters. Contact: delaneym@si.edu

Hirsch, Mark, Researcher. Ph.D. (1984) Harvard University. Research specialties: History of treaty-making between the U.S. and tribal nations; U.S. Indian policy in the 19th and 20th century; History of Native American service in the U.S. Armed Forces. Contact: HirschM@si.edu

Minner, Ashley C., Assistant Curator. B.F.A. (2005) Maryland Institute College of Art; M.A. (2007) Maryland Institute College of Art; M.F.A. (2011), Maryland Institute College of Art; Ph.D. (2020) University of Maryland College Park. Research specialties: American Indian history and heritage in Baltimore; urban Indian communities; East Coast Indian communities; the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina; folklife; identity; ethnography; archives; public history; material culture; art for social justice. Contact: MinnerA@si.edu 

Montiel, Anya, Museum Curator. M.A. and PhD (2018) Yale University; B.A. (1997) University of California at Davis. Research specialties: North American Indigenous histories and cultures; Native American art; global arts and crafts. Contact: MontielA@si.edu 

Vidaurri, Cynthia L., Folklorist. B.A. (1979) University of Texas; M.A. (1991) Texas A&I University. Research specialties: Cuban, Mexican, and Mexican-American/Chicano folklore; U.S. – Mexico borderlands; traditional medicine, religious folk art; ranching culture; folk religion; cultural/heritage tourism. Contact: VidaurriC@si.edu

Collections Management

Research areas and interests of the Collections Management Office include compiling and maintaining collections information; controlling and monitoring environments; traditional care and handling of Native art and objects; packing and moving collections; location control; collections management databases; and the management of rights and permissions.

Conservation Staff

McHugh, Kelly, Objects Conservator. M.A. Art History/Certificate in Conservation (2000), New York University, Institute of Fine Arts; B.A. in Art History/Peace and Global Policy Studies (1990), New York University. Areas of interest: collaborative work with North, Central, South American Native communities, contemporary art, materials and technology of ethnographic objects. Contact: McHughK@si.edu 

Conservation

Conservation staff care for NMAI’s collections and actively pursue research related to the collection, preservation, study, and exhibition of Native American objects. Ongoing research focuses on: testing and evaluating materials for storage, packing, exhibition casework, and mounts; identifying hazards in NMAI’s collections and developing mitigation strategies; providing material analysis on items related to NMAI’s collections; identifying new technologies for preservation and treatment of collections; and developing strategies for training conservation students that incorporate collaborative approaches to conservation.

Conservation Staff

Heald, Susan, Senior Textile Conservator. B.A. (1985) George Washington University; M.S. (1990) Winterthur Museum/University of Delaware Art Conservation Program; Postgraduate Fellow (1991) Smithsonian Institution Conservation Analytical Laboratory and Cooper-Hewitt Museum. Research specialties: Conservation of ethnographic textiles and clothing, fiber identification, structural analysis of textiles, methods of fabrication, methods for storing and exhibiting textiles and clothing. Contact: HealdS@si.edu

Kaplan, Emily, Objects Conservator. B.A. (1984) University of Massachusetts; M.A. (1993) Queens University, Kingston, Canada. Research specialties: Materials and technology of archaeological and ethnographic objects of the Americas, particularly Andean region. Contact: KaplanE@si.edu

 

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