Complexities of Indigenous Representation Retreat at Yale University

December 21, 2022

An intimate gathering of seven Yale University organizations and cross-collection institutions revealed an untapped vitality of staff, faculty, curators, and students invested in understanding the complexities of Indigenous representation in exhibit development. Together they shared their insights into this field which calls upon greater care for collaborative initiatives and curatorial needs. Organized by Dr. Royce K. Young Wolf and sponsored by the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale Peabody Museum, Yale Group for the Study of Native America, and the Department of the History of Art, the retreat invited guests to share personal experiences and expertise and will serve as the first of other events to identify stakeholders, needs, and key variables for the creation of guidelines, standards, and best practices for Indigenous representation in the museum and gallery fields at Yale.

Dr. Young Wolf, along with the retreat’s conversation leaders, crafted a socially and culturally safe space to foster the sharing of personal experiences and generative conversations about the impacts of Indigenous representations unique to the history of Yale and the types of collections stewarded on campus. Community members from local Native American and Indigenous groups shared their insights about the retreat goals and to aid the group in reflecting on what it means to truly develop and maintain respectful relationships between non-Indigenous institutions and Indigenous peoples.

Regional and National directors of Indigenous museums and art initiatives led conversations, sharing examples of their community-driven projects and institutions. Joshua Carter (Director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center), Karl Duncan (Executive Director of the Poeh Cultural Center and Museum), and Candice Hopkins, (Executive Director of the Forge Project) sparked a reflective process expanding the vision of rematriation and decolonization at Yale. Each assisted in leading conversations focused on how a prioritization of community reshapes exhibit development and collaborative efforts for Indigenous representation in multiple areas of curatorial and administrative care.

Students, faculty, and staff shared a wealth of their experiences at Yale to identify how a lack of guidelines and best practices for Indigenous representation in the exhibit and collection fields have impacted the outcomes of their work and perspectives at Yale. This gathering could not have been possible without their investment and strength to be present through very sensitive conversations about misrepresentation and failures of inclusion and action by various historical and contemporary entities at Yale.

The retreat resulted in the development of recommendations to begin drafting guidelines, standards, and best practices for Indigenous representation in these fields, and to direct community outreach at and beyond Yale to garner feedback from stakeholders who could not be present at the retreat. Future events include a public education program in February 2023 hosted by the YUAG to introduce the recommendations and efforts to draft such guidelines, as well as the next retreat focused on Indigenous Representation and Wellness in the Arts in April 2023.

There are many cross-collection efforts that are ongoing at Yale University to address the sensitivities and unique needs of Indigenous representation, cultural standards, community outreach and engagement, and the variety of collections on campus and beyond. This retreat is not the first gathering of its kind, nor the last. While the experiences shared were heartfelt and emotionally heavy, together we focused on solutions and stories of success and humor.

Maacagiraac agitiwa ‘many thanks’ to all those who gave their support and voice to these efforts and the needs for the future events to assist in developing guidelines and best practices for Indigenous Representation and collaborative initiatives at Yale.