I joined the Met Museum as its first curator for Native American Art three years ago, yet I fell in love with museums on an elementary school field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago when I was seven years old. I still remember a soothing calm washing over me while looking at Abstract Expressionist paintings and other works. Another meaningful moment was viewing an installation of photographs of Purépecha women at Chicago’s Field Museum in the 1980s–’90s. It was a visual representation that provided validation and personal connection. Today, my relationship with museums is deeper and more complex.
The Met and I were both keenly aware that my appointment was a milestone moment for the museum and the field. This curatorial position came about because of the promised gift of a prominent Native American collection of works from Charles and Valerie Diker. It’s a collection that had already been well-researched and exhibited at numerous institutions nationwide including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. The gift and landmark curatorial role propelled significant changes at The Met, specifically, foregrounding the voices of Native peoples and presenting their historical and contemporary creative expressions to an international audience in a world-class institution. More important, but less visible to the public, were the much-needed collaborations with Native American source communities regarding the items currently in The Met’s care.