Indigenous woman to lead Smithsonian American Indian museum

An Indigenous New Mexico woman has been named to lead the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- An Indigenous New Mexico woman has been named to lead the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Cynthia Chavez Lamar will be the first Native American woman to serve as the museum’s director when she takes over on Feb. 14. She’s currently the acting associate director for collections and operations.

An enrolled member at San Felipe Pueblo, Chavez Lamar is an accomplished curator, author and scholar whose research has focused on Southwest Native art. Early in her career, she was a museum intern and later an associate curator from 2000 to 2005.

“Dr. Chavez Lamar is at the forefront of a growing wave of Native American career museum professionals,” said Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian. “They have played an important role in changing how museums think about their obligations to Native communities and to all communities."

Chavez Lamar, whose ancestry also includes Hopi, Tewa and Navajo, will oversee the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York and the Cultural Resources Center in Maryland, which houses the museum’s collections and its curatorial and repatriation offices.

The museum has one of the largest and most extensive collections of Native and Indigenous items in the world. It includes more than 1 million objects and photographs and more than 500,000 digitized images, films and other media documenting Native American communities, events and organizations.

Chavez Lamar said in a statement that she looks forward to leveraging the museum’s reputation to amplify Indigenous knowledge and perspectives in the interest of further informing the American public and international audiences of "the beauty, tenacity and richness of Indigenous cultures, arts and histories.”

During her tenure as assistant director for collections, Chavez Lamar established partnerships with tribes and developed a loan program for tribal museum and cultural centers that provides training and technical assistance to enhance stewardship and reconnect tribal descendant communities with the museum’s collections.