Reimagined McClung Museum exhibit created through collaboration with Native American tribes

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Knoxville, Tenn. (WATE) – The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is reimagining a 22-year-old exhibit to explain the repatriation, or return, of Native American ancestral remains and cultural artifacts to their own cultural communities.

The exhibit, which opens August 23, was created through a collaboration with the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and the University of Tennessee Office of Repatriation. In the exhibit, the museum examines the legal and ethical principles of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Congress passed this bill into federal law in 1990. The law requires all institutions that receive federal funding to give federally recognized tribes a list of Native American ancestral remains, burials, sacred objects, and other culturally significant elements for eventual repatriation.

To highlight the role of repatriation in preserving and commemorating Indigenous cultures, the exhibit reimagines the 22-year-old Native Peoples of Tennessee gallery. The updated gallery features interpretive panels and quotes from Indigenous representatives and scholars explaining the NAGPRA process. Many items that were previously on display have been removed as part of the repair process or out of respect following conversations with Indigenous Nations partners.

“The McClung Museum sees this as a starting point for building lasting and respectful relationships with important Indigenous Nation partners,” said Claudio Gómez, Executive Director of the McClung Museum. “These relationships will help open the door to more collaborative efforts with Indigenous communities in research, programming, cultural and environmental preservation, and exhibits.

“This exhibit is a window into the complexities and healing that can occur when institutions work through NAGPRA and create true partnerships with Indigenous nations,” said Dakota Brown, director of education at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. in Cherokee, North Carolina. “These objects are direct links to our ancestors who created them, kept them and buried loved ones with them; the impact of bringing them home is why so many Indigenous activists have fought and continue to advocate for NAGPRA legislation. Partnerships like those the McClung Museum has with Indigenous Nations, including the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, have the potential to bridge the gap in understanding our culture and community.

The museum also plans to present a series of public programs on repatriation throughout the next school year. For more information: mcclungmuseum.utk.edu.

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