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Developing Standards in Santa Fe

September 7, 2021 — Live Oak founder and principal Deana Dartt recently traveled to Santa Fe to visit the 99th annual Indian Market and to connect with the team that’s working on the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) Core Standards for Museums with Native American collections.

“This group of museum professionals have been meeting regularly for several years to develop a set of best practices for museums that care for and steward Native American materials,” Dartt says. “The group’s long-term goal is to have these practices be utilized as criteria for AAM accredidation.”

When the Core Standards are approved, any museum with Native materials will need to comply with this set of practices to be accredited by AAM, which will feature the guidelines on its website for the field as a whole to use in every area of museum work.

Dartt and her colleagues have been building one set of guidelines for communities that want to work with museums as well as one for museums that want to work with Native communities, a compendium that’s been developed by the School for Advanced Research Indian Arts Research Center. While previous guidelines relate to collections, these new Standards of Excellence or Core Standards guidelines relate to every area of museum operations.

“The new Standards of Excellence covers seven areas including Public Trust and Accountability, Financial Stability, Mission & Planning, Education and Outreach. “In every area of the museum, the new Standards offer a set of implementation guidelines for aligning with Native American values and outreaching and working with Native communities,” Dartt says.

Dartt’s Core Standards project partners include Cynthia Chavez Lamar, Assistant Director for Collections at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), Elysia Poon, Director, Indian Arts Research Center at School for Advanced Research (SAR), Tony Chavarria, Curator of Ethnology at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Janine Ledford, Executive Director of The Makah Cultural and Research Center, Stacey Halfmoon, Senior Director of the Choctaw Nation Cultural Center, and Landis Smith, an important part of the team until recently, Smith is the Projects Conservator at the Museums of New Mexico Conservation Unit and a Collaborative Conservation Programs Consultant at the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research, and Research Associate at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Dartt says the time is now to develop these best practices.

“There have been no real guidelines for museums that hold Native American collections. There’s been no real accountability to descending communities. Not only have Native American materials — which include Native American human remains, ancestral remains and sacred and ceremonial objects — have been treated at the discretion of the non-Native museum professionals, without oversight or guiding principles for that work,” Dartt says. “The Native professionals on the committee recognize that there needs to be a baseline standard.”

Dartt proposed the Standards of Excellence project four years ago, at the Association of Tribal Libraries, Archives and Museums, finding the encouragement there to proceed. Dartt reached out to AAM, who referred her to the Indian Research Center to make it a reality.

“Not only do Native professional recognize it’s a need, but the non-Native museum professional world recognizes that they often don’t know what those best practices are,” Dartt says.

Since the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in 1990, there’s been more collaboration and consulation with tribal communities among museums with Native materials, but only relating to collections.

“We recognize as museum professionals from all areas of the museum that there are needs and shortcomings in all areas of museum work,” Dartt says. “In development, for example, when fundraising occurs, the kinds of needs of the communities, or needs of the particular collections, aren’t always considered. Communications around Native American exhibits or programs may lack the correct vocabulary — And may be offensive.”

Dartt and her partners are developing this document for museums of every size, encouraging and empowering them to integrate Native perspectives into the overall operations of the organization. With a rollout slated for late 2022, Dartt and team presented about the document at the most recent AAM conference, they’ll present in November at the Association of Tribal Libraries and Museums — And right now, they’re meeting with Native and allied museum professionals to vet the document.

Collaborating on the Standards of Excellence, while enjoying the sights and surrounds of Santa Fe, inspired Dartt. “Santa Fe is dreamy” she says. “For me, the highlight of the weekend was the Fashion Show, featuring four of my favorite designers, who were involved in Native Fashion Now show that we hosted at the Portland Art Museum in 2016 — Jamie Okuma, Orlando Dugi, Pamela Baker, and Lauren Good Day — Native HipHop while these Native models strutted the runway? — It was incredible.”

Follow this blog for more information about the Standards of Excellence tools as they develop.


Artist and environmental educator Nancy Judd of Recycle Runway creates couture fashion from trash as an innovative way to provide education about conservation.

This sculpture was created in Indigenous Cultural Sensitivity trainings offered through Live Oak Consulting, a Native owned business, and facilitated by Deana Dartt, PhD and Nancy Judd. It examines the many privileges that non-native people have that are often invisible. 

Native peoples who have lived in North America for thousands of years cared meticulously for the Earth. Settlers, not so much. In fact, non-Native ideas and attitudes about unlimited wealth and waste have fueled a crisis that affects us all.

The same people who settled and exploited the land have ignored the people who had cared for it and simultaneously benefited through unexamined privilege. 

This suit is fashioned after one worn by Nancy’s grandfather, while working as the Treasure of Standard Oil, who profited from some of the many Settler Privileges written between the lines of this suit. These sometimes very subtle benefits are reserved for those who have historically and continue today to benefit from the erasure and land theft of Indigenous people. Examples include the following (we request that you speak them and feel the weight of them):

  • I do not worry that when I die my language will die with me;
  • I am not confronted with comments that express surprise that my group is still living;
  • I am never asked to prove my legitimacy based on government-imposed definitions of bloodquantum” and identity;
  • My ethnic group is usually represented in the media and statistical findings.
  • Images, symbols, or names of people of my ethnicity are not used as sports mascots, Halloween costumes, or marketing logos.