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Denver Science Museum to Close Gallery About Indigenous Cultures That Promoted ‘Racist Stereotypes’

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science will close a gallery devoted to Indigenous cultures that it said promoted “harmful stereotypes.”

Last week, the museum revealed in a Twitter post that it would shutter the space, officially titled the North American Indian Cultures Hall, this summer. “We’re committed to re-examining our practices for exhibiting, curating, collecting, programming and conserving in a manner that respects the Indigenous cultural histories, heritage and belongings,” the museum wrote.

A subsequent statement went into more graphic detail, stating that the hall was being closed because it “harms Indigenous people of North America.”

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“Within this space,” the institution wrote, “the Museum perpetuates racist stereotypes by portraying Indigenous people in dioramas as if they only exist in the past, using inaccurate names for sovereign nations (regardless of government recognition), and displaying their belongings without ongoing consent or recognition.”

The development comes as many museums—not just ones focused on science, but also art spaces—shift how they present Indigenous art, artifacts, and culture.

Still, some science-oriented museums continue to exhibit dioramas depicting Indigenous peoples, including the American Natural History Museum in New York, which has one display in which a Lenape delegation is shown welcoming the Dutch leader Peter Stuyvesant. Rather than removing its diorama, the American Natural History Museum added more text to its label in 2018 to account for “common clichés and a fictional view of the past.”

The Denver Museum of Science and Nature’s decision to shutter its hall was done in collaboration with the Denver American Indian Commission. Donna Chrisjohn, a Sicangu and Diné/Indigenous member of that commission, told the Associated Press, “It is important to have accurate information and accurate portrayal of who we are.”

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