Indigenous art. Indigenous perspectives.

Beyond Art: Respecting and Protecting the Sacred


Many beings and cultural items are deemed by Native American tribes to be too sacred for public viewing. Even reproductions of these items can carry the power of the original. How does one know what these items are and how does one start to learn protocols about Sacred Beings and items? What should museums not display and Native artists not represent? How does one respectfully navigate these issues when different parties share conflicting information? Five Indigenous leaders share their perspectives.

NAGPRA notification of items returned to tribes and no longer on public display, Sam Noble Museum, Norman, OK. Photo: FAAM.


  • Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee)
  • Richard W. Hill Sr. (Tuscarora Nation at Grand River, Beaver clan)
  • Tina Kuckkahn (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe)
  • James Riding In (Pawnee Nation)
  • Brian Vallo (Pueblo of Acoma)


  • America Meredith (Cherokee Nation)


Suzan Shown Harjo. Photo by Lucy FowlerSUZAN SHOWN HARJO (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) is a writer, curator, and policy advocate, who has developed landmark laws and led myriad campaigns to protect Native peoples’ rights and recover more than one million acres of land, including cultural, historic, and sacred places. Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020, she is a founding member of its Anti-Racism Committee. A co-founder of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), Smithsonian Institution, she began coalition work in 1967 that led to the NMAI establishing act, repatriation laws, and nationwide museum reforms. Harjo guest-curated NMAI’s Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations and edited its catalogue. exhibition. President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.

RICHARD W. HILL SR. (Tuscarora Nation, Grand River, Beaver clan) is the Indigenous innovation specialist at Mohawk College in Hamilton and is an advisor to FNTI at Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Previously, he served as the director of the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum; assistant director for public programs at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; and assistant professor of Native American studies at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He was the senior project coordinator of the Deyohahá:ge: The Indigenous Knowledge Centre at Six Nations Polytechnic, Ohsweken, Ontario. He holds an American studies master’s degree from the State University of New York, Buffalo. Currently, Hill is working with a group of historians on a book on the history and legacy of the Mohawk Institute, Canada’s oldest Indian residential school.

Tina KuckkahnTINA KUCKKAHN, Esq, (Lac du Flambeau Tribe of Lake Superior Chippewa/Lac Courte Oreilles Chippewa) is the director of grantmaking for NDN Collective’s foundation. She was the founding director of the “House of Welcome” Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at The Evergreen State College, and became Evergreen’s first vice president of Indigenous arts, education and tribal relations. With degrees in education and law from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she regularly teaches courses in fund development and tribal organizations in the master of public administration program at Evergreen. Kuckkahn serves on the boards of directors for Grantmakers in the Arts and the Waaswaaganing Indian Bowl Living Arts and Culture Center, and the advisory circle of the Morning Star Institute–Native American Rights Fund Sacred Places project.

James Riding InJAMES RIDING IN, PhD (Pawnee Nation), an emeritus associate professor at Arizona State University (ASU), helped found its American Indian studies program, where he taught about sovereignty, repatriation, sacred place protections, activism, federal Indian law and policy, research paradigms, religious freedom, Indigenous rights, and colonization/decolonization. He earned his doctoral degree in United States history from the University of California, Los Angeles. Riding In served as the first president of the American Indian Studies Association, a featured writer of the National Museum of the American Indian writer series, and editor of Wicazo Sa Review: A Journal of Native American Studies. The founding chair of Pawnee Nation College’s board of trustees, he is currently writing a book about Pawnee cultural survival under U.S. colonial domination.

Brian ValloBRIAN VALLO (Pueblo of Acoma) has dedicated 30 years to working in museum development, cultural resources management, historic preservation, the arts, and cultural tourism. Based in New Mexico, Vallo has dedicated his career to promoting Native American arts and culture as well as advocating for the protection of sacred sites and repatriation of ancestors and items of cultural patrimony held in museums and private, federal, and state institutions. He recently completed a three-year term as governor of his tribe, after serving as director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research. A self-taught artist, Vallo is inspired by his culture and the landscape of Acoma which influence his multimedia paintings.


  • Native American Graves and Repatriation and Protection Act | link
  • Caring for Sacred and Cultural Sensitive Objects, Government of Canada | link
  • Cultural Protection & NAGPRA, National Congress of the American Indian | link
  • Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, First Archivist Circle | link

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