Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Art History

First Advisor

Annette de Stecher

Second Advisor

Robert Nauman

Third Advisor

Gregory Johnson

Abstract

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, anthropologists, archaeologists, and hobbyists removed over 200,000 human bodies and 1 million of Native American cultural items, including sacred objects, and burial objects, from Indigenous village and burial sites. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was enacted in 1990 to address and redress this human rights issue. NAGPRA requires all U.S. museums that receive federal government financial support to inventory their collections, consult with tribal nations, and return all materials that meet NAGPRA criteria, including sacred objects, burial objects, human remains, and objects of cultural patrimony to their tribal homelands.

My research focuses on the history of repatriation and NAGPRA at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) and the Denver Art Museum (DAM). The DMNS has been a leader in repatriation. DMNS staff interprets NAGPRA in a way that places Indigenous communities as a priority in an effort to decolonize the museum. The DAM was not only a leader in moving away from conventional fine arts hierarchies to include substantial holdings of Indigenous material culture, but was also a leader in repatriation. It was one of the first museums to repatriate Indigenous material culture, even before the passage of NAGPRA. In this thesis, I will discuss how the NAGPRA consultation process has created lasting bonds between Native communities and the DMNS and the DAM.