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Repatriation and the Smithsonian: An examination of repatriation at the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of Natural History

  • Author(s): Duarte, Meredith Laura
  • Advisor(s): Riley, Angela R.
  • et al.

As a research based institution, the Smithsonian's involvement in the debate over the control of indigenous history between indigenous and scientific communities has largely been at the defense of free access to all knowledge despite the destruction of indigenous people's cultural heritage. However, the passage of the National Museum of the American Indian Act in 1989, which established a new Smithsonian museum devoted to indigenous cultures and created a federally mandated repatriation statute for all Smithsonian museums, has caused the Smithsonian to evaluate the ethical and moral issues surrounding its involvement in this debate.

This thesis seeks to examine the differing perceptions of cultural property being utilized at the Smithsonian through its two repatriating bodies, the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of the American Indian. This study provides an example of the current larger debate as well as emphasizes the Smithsonian's influence on this controversy. Through this study I will provide possible mediations between the two opposing sides of the contest for control of indigenous history and propose the need for a collaborative partnership towards a shared authority over indigenous history.

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