People look at sections of the Eastern Woodlands and Great...

People look at sections of the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains exhibit Friday at the American Museum of Natural History. The halls dedicated to the Eastern Woodlands and the Great Plains will close Saturday.

  Credit: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock//EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The American Museum of Natural History will close two halls dedicated to Native American cultures Saturday, responding to updated federal regulations that require the consent of tribes to exhibit human remains, sacred objects and funeral items, museum officials said Friday.

The museum will close the halls dedicated to the Eastern Woodlands and the Great Plains, along with various exhibits that display Native Hawaiian items, officials said.

"The halls we are closing are vestiges of an era when museums such as ours did not respect the values, perspectives, and indeed shared humanity of Indigenous peoples," said museum president Sean M. Decatur in a letter to staff Friday, which was provided to Newsday. "Actions that may feel sudden to some may seem long overdue to others."

The closings at the Manhattan museum respond to updates that take effect this month to the 1990 law called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The updates are extensive and expand requirements for consultation and consent for the exhibition and research on artifacts, Decatur said in the letter.

Items in both halls "could require consent to exhibit," he added.

Officials for two Long Island museums — the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor and the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill — said their museums do not exhibit Native American artifacts, so they would not be impacted.

The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook has a few artifacts from Native American culture — including a vegetable scrub brush and some decoys used in hunting — but nothing that would be impacted by the regulations, said Joshua Ruff, the museum's co-executive director.

Ruff added that the museum supports the efforts behind the regulations.

The American Museum of Natural History receives about 4.4 million visitors a year, according to the museum. Because of the hall closings, the museum will suspend school field trips to Eastern Woodlands, which has hosted students for years as part of their social studies curriculum, Decatur said.

"We remain committed to supporting teaching and learning about Indigenous peoples," Decatur said.

He added, "This is a beginning, not an end point. We embrace the new NAGPRA regulations' potential to improve the processes by which museums work with tribes and communities, and we will use this opportunity to continue our own learning and advance our commitment to working in new ways."


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