Inclusive Collecting and Repatriation

Acquisitions and Accessioning

A museum’s approach to acquiring and accessioning is one way museums represent their institutional values. These places in the strategic planning of a museum are also key areas for reparative and restorative work. The Atlanta History Center outlines how their collecting processes portray their goals and relationships with surrounding communities, which is just one way institutions can consider making their museological practices more inclusive.

The Delaware Art Museum has recently prioritized diversifying its collections, as demonstrated in this article from PBS station WHYY

The Museums Association covers Future Collect, a commissioning and partnership initiative that benefits artists of color. The program also includes curatorial traineeship, to empower these artists to pursue museum careers. Although the application of this technique may look different in a smaller museum, the approach of commissioning, partnering, and training allows museums to diversify collections while amplifying the voice of a young artist and empowering them through professional development.

The San Francisco Public Library developed a Collection Development Policy that centers equitable access and community collaboration. As your institution works to diversify collections, similar language can be incorporated into your Collections Management Policy. 

Hannah Mason-Macklin also asks about ethical accessioning in a slightly different way: what does the movie Black Panther have to do with museums?


Repatriation is the act of returning an artifact to its place (or context) of origin. Repatriation is legally mandated and therefore should be an institution’s starting point. Rather than allowing this singular process to be the only engagement with historically marginalized communities, GLAMP institutions should consider decolonial approaches as stepping stones to continue building reparative relationships.

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was enacted by the United States federal government in November 1990. This legislation outlines the rights of Indigenous peoples to their “cultural objects,” outlined in the statute as “Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.” 

This law requires all Federal agencies and museums that receive federal funding to inventory related artifacts, provide written summaries of cultural objects, and consult with Native American tribes and other organizations to agree upon repatriation or other disposition of these cultural objects. 

Decolonizing the Museum

As discussed on the DEAI: Race and Ethnicity landing page, decolonization refers to returning the lands and repatriating the remains of native human beings and artifacts that colonizers took and keep in museum collections. Most museums are not fully decolonizing, which would require turning over their land to Indigenous communities. In addition, though, museums need to overhaul exhibits in which native people and their material and spiritual worldviews are presented in “primitive” or “savage”  dehumanizing ways. Current practice is to do this by engaging the community and giving its members authority to shape the exhibit. 

A good example of this method for decolonizing the museum is the Abbe Museum’s Decolonization Initiative, in which a task force is collaborating with tribal communities to press for restorative justice, incorporating truth-telling in their programming to address the museum’s history of colonization, and foregrounding Native voices and perspectives. The term that most accurately describes museums’ efforts to address socially just practices is “restorative justice,” not “decolonization.”

Another excellent resource is We Must Decolonize Our Museums by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, recorded at TEDxDirigo in November 2016

Recorded at TEDxDirigo in November 2016