Standards of Excellence

School of Advanced Research and Indian Arts Research Center- Santa Fe, NM 

Project: Development of  “Standards of Excellence for Museums with Native American Collections (SEMNAC)”

Many museums with Native collections seek to engage in meaningful dialogue with descendent communities in an effort to better represent their histories and cultures and are perplexed or daunted by this work. The Standards of Excellence for Museums with Native American Collections (SEMNAC) is a comprehensive document for use by museums with Native collections for the purpose of clarifying their roles as stewards and ultimately to improve the museum field as it relates to Native American peoples, communities, and cultural items. The SEMNAC document will provide support for institutions to become true community partners, enabling them to connect collections with descendant communities for more meaningful, relevant and culturally sensitive interpretation and documentation. The SEMNAC document will integrate the Museums and Communities/Communities and Museums Guidelines set forth by the School for Advanced Research, Indian Arts Research Center as its foundation and expand upon these by aligning it with AAM’s Standards of Excellence. The final SEMNAC document will serve to guide all aspects of work within museums holding Native collections, for the purpose of educating governing and executive boards and staff, collections and curatorial staff as well as education, development, security and volunteers. In addition, it will provide a step by step guide for communication, public engagement and visitor experience. The document will set forth a set of tools that will enable museums to move confidently in the direction of decolonizing and sensitizing practices.


  • Emphasize the enormous responsibility and accountability inherent in the stewardship of Native collections
  • Educate the museum field about the damaging colonial legacy of collecting and provide strategies for culturally relevant and appropriate care of these items as well as pathways for outreach to descendant communities
  • Provide support for Native American museum professionals, staff, board members, volunteers
  • Address the lack of cultural knowledge and sensitivity that has historically characterized museums with Native collections and their audiences, recognizing that Native collections have meaning that goes beyond western interpretation
  • Motivate museums toward Native collaboration
    (Completion date December 2020)