Collaborative decisions in context: Loss compensation in Native American museum objects

Landis Smith

Abstract

As many anthropology museums evolve toward a philosophy and practice that is collaborative and inclusive of Native American people, conservators are presented with the opportunity to integrate these new principles into their own work. The practical ramifications of this new consciousness in museums will be described in terms of several case studies of loss compensation in Pueblo, Navajo and Apache material culture, including pottery and basketry.

The decision to compensate a loss, or not, who decides, and why, has become increasingly complex and multi-faceted as we grow more aware of the intangible cultural meanings inherently found in Native American museum collections. In collaboration with other specialists, the object (including its condition) is considered as holistically as possible in both its present and historic cultural and museum contexts. Through a methodical series of object reviews with non-Native and Native American curators and advisors, fieldwork with potters and basket weavers, as well as extensive museum research, a broad-based understanding of the object and its condition is reached. The decision to compensate a loss or not, and why, is based on a clear rationale, taking into consideration as fully as possible the context and condition of the object.

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