The American Museum of National History (AMNH) has reopened its Northwest Coast Hall with exhibits dedicated to Indigenous cultures and communities located in the Pacific Northwest. The hall presents more than 1,000+ restored cultural treasures, presented in revitalized context through the museum’s intense collaboration with Indigenous consulting curators from the Coast Salish, Gitxsan, Haida, Haíltzaqv, Kwakwakaw’akw, Nuu-cha-nulth, Nuxalk, Tlingit, and Tsimshian communities. The five-year, $19 million renovation, led by Haa’yuups (Ron Hamilton) of the Hupacasath First Nation and AMNH curator Dr. Peter Whitely provides a more authentic rendition of the Indigenous lives and communities being showcased in the museum.
The Northwest Coast Hall was inaugurated in 1899 by Franz Boaz, a German-American anthropologist best known for his presentations of non-Western artifacts as “fruits of various sophisticated civilizations” and coining the term “cultural relativism”. At the time, this was a revolutionary way of understanding other cultures, given many people viewed non-Western civilizations as “primitive.” During recent years, many events and discoveries pushed the museum community to reflect on how the Indigenous objects were acquired, held, and presented to the public. Due to Boaz’s wrongful approach, the museum acquired more than 10,000 objects, only to be placed in either a shallow showcase or the museum’s storeroom. As a step towards reconciliation, AMNH collaborated with many Indigenous curators, including Nuu-chah-nulth artist and historian Haa’yuups of the Hupacasath First Nation in B.C.’s Alberni Valley.
Haa’yuups (also known as Ron Hamilton)
Despite his belief that all Indigenous artifacts in museums should be returned to the Indigenouscommunities, Haa’yuups agreed to becoming a co-organizer of the renovation project and co-curator of the “Our Voices” exhibit. His goal was to do the following.
- Present the treasures in a way that reveals the wealth of Indigenous cultures that had been stolen away through colonialization.
- Fill the background of display cases with words of the people from the Northwest Coast.
- Feature the variety of belief systems that existed on the Northwest Coast; underlining the particularity and similarity among them.
A visit to the Northwest Coast Hall
The Consulate General of Canada in New York was privileged to visit the Northwest Coast Hall on June 23, 2022. Re-opened in May following a lengthy revitalization, the museum’s oldest hall now provides a more accurate and respectful portrayal of Indigenous cultures thanks to feature brand-new exhibits developed in collaboration with Indigenous curators from along the Pacific Northwest Coast. Highlights include a 63-foot Northwest Coast dugout canoe (the largest in existence) and a 37-foot ceremonial Wolf curtain that’s never before been shown. In addition, multimedia displays highlighting the ongoing negative impacts of Colonialism on Indigenous peoples and cultures, underscoring the need for individuals and institutions alike to continue to work toward reconciliation – something Curator Peter Whitely welcomed: “The more conversations we have, the better,” he said.
Make sure to check out our TikTok video on the visit.
Make sure to check out the “Our Voices” exhibit and the Northwest Coast Hall.
Reserve tickets here.
American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024