The Cleveland Museum of Art acknowledges the many Indigenous peoples who have been dispossessed from this region, some of them named below. For millennia they occupied, traversed, lived from, and cared for land and waterways in Ohio—indeed, the state’s name derives from Ohi:yó, an Onöndowa’ga:’ (Seneca) term meaning “beautiful river.” Today Native Americans of diverse ancestries and tribal affiliations continue to reside in Northeast Ohio, sustaining their heritages, beliefs, and practices and making contributions to the region’s life and vitality. With this statement, we affirm our commitment to creating respectful, enduring, collaborative relationships with them and with the Native artists and communities represented by works in our collection, which embody knowledge and traditions passed down through generations. We make this pledge with the aim of including Natives’ perspectives and enhancing Natives’ experiences in our galleries, exhibition halls, program spaces, and offices.
If you have questions or comments about this statement, please contact ArtoftheAmericas@clevelandart.org.
Based on current knowledge, we respectfully recognize the nations who signed Ohio treaties in the 1700s and 1800s—the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi of the Anishinaabeg; Delaware; Seneca and Cayuga of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois); Myaamia (Miami); Kaskaskia, Piankeshaw, and Wea, today of the Peoria; Shawnee; and Wyandotte—along with the Erie and ancient Whittlesey peoples. Because understanding of Ohio’s Indigenous history is imperfect and evolving, we may adjust this list as new information becomes available. The Indigenous peoples who continue to occupy land and urban spaces in Northeast Ohio today represent, in their majority, the Choctaw, Diné (Navajo), Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), Lakota (Sioux), Odawa, and Ojibwe nations, but also many others.
It is a statement grounded in humility and respect that recognizes the Indigenous peoples who have long lived on and cared for a particular tract of land; it also recognizes their abiding ties to the land. They’ve been displaced from their homelands by colonizing settlers, who often have tried to eradicate them and their ways of life. The United States is the result of such a process, known as settler colonialism, which hasn’t ended but continues today. Common in Australia, Canada, and the United States, acknowledgment takes different forms, from written texts to oral statements made before gatherings. Usually known simply as “land acknowledgment,” we added “Indigenous peoples” to our statement’s title to emphasize relationship building with Native communities in the present.
The museum is an educational institution that the public trusts to tell truthful, accurate histories. We adopted an acknowledgment both to fulfill that trust more perfectly and to recognize our own place in history. The acknowledgment is also intended to encourage the public to learn and reflect about the region’s history and its continuing impacts on contemporary Indigenous peoples and, importantly, to begin a long-term collaboration with the region’s Native communities that will benefit all, including the museum’s audiences.
Because it’s essential to listen to Native voices in matters relating to Native experience, knowledge, and culture, in late 2021 and early 2022 we invited a committee of local Native Americans to provide advice about whether we should adopt an acknowledgment and how we can strengthen our relationship with Indigenous communities. After candid discussion the committee agreed that an acknowledgment should be made if it serves not as an end but rather as the beginning of a mutually beneficial collaboration. The committee’s members charged us with writing the acknowledgment, following principles they provided, and made recommendations about relationship building that we’re following.
The advisory committee has written the following statement: “You are on Native land. Hundreds of diverse Indigenous nations currently thrive on this continent and have for millennia. All Ohioans have benefited from generations of traditional Indigenous knowledge and the resources of these lands, which were taken through forced removal, genocide, slavery, and treaties negotiated in bad faith. From the 1950s through the 1970s, Cleveland was one of the cities in the federal Urban Relocation Program, which promoted the erasure of our people through assimilation. Today nearly 100,000 Indigenous peoples reside in Ohio. We live as your neighbors, co-workers, and classmates, with unique identities, cultures, and histories. We ask that you reflect on the sacrifices and contributions by Indigenous peoples of the past, present, and future.”
This is a common criticism of acknowledgment, and it’s of utmost concern to us and our Native advisors. We know that for acknowledgment to be meaningful, its spirit must be embodied in sincere, continuing commitments to collaborate respectfully with Indigenous peoples and in so doing to try to bring about constructive change within and outside of our walls. We regard acknowledgment as an important first step in this process, but only a first.
We’ll step up our efforts to hire Indigenous staff members and to cultivate future Indigenous museum professionals through internships and fellowships in a variety of operational areas. We’ll strengthen our track record in acquiring and exhibiting artworks by Indigenous artists, as well as in other Indigenous programming. We’ll also improve outreach to Native communities in the region and continue collaborating with them through a standing advisory committee that meets regularly. Finally, we’ll revise the presentation of Native American arts, peoples, and history in our permanent collection galleries, following guidelines discussed with Native advisors. Some of these initiatives can be achieved quickly; others will take time.
Our collection is small, and our main acquisition focus is contemporary art. Among earlier works, many were made for sale, some perhaps under conditions of economic hardship related to cultural disruption that aren’t reflected in our records. The histories of others aren’t known. Among archaeological works, some come from documented excavations; others don’t. We support the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which provides for the return of human remains, funerary and sacred objects, and other cultural patrimony to culturally affiliated Native American tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. We have worked collaboratively with tribes since the 1990s and will continue to do so. We care for the Native works in our collection according to the highest ethical standards, taking cultural sensitivities into account in their display, storage, and conservation.
Except for such ancient societies as the mound builders, Native Americans have largely been erased from Ohio’s history and public awareness. Erasure started in the 1700s and 1800s, when via treaties the United States confined Ohio Natives to smaller and smaller territories, eventually reducing their lands to a handful of reservations in the state’s northwest quadrant. Then, in 1830, the federal Indian Removal Act established districts west of the Mississippi River to exchange for eastern Native lands. In the decade that followed, many Ohio Natives were forcibly removed on grueling journeys that took them to new reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma, where their descendants live today. Some remained, however, and their numbers in Northeast Ohio increased particularly from the 1950s to the 1970s due to the federal Urban Relocation Program, which encouraged Native Americans to leave reservations, move to urban areas, and assimilate into mainstream society.
Preferences vary by locale and among individuals; when in doubt, ask the Native with whom you’re speaking. In Northeast Ohio, people prefer to be identified by the name of their tribe, nation, or community—for instance, “Cheyenne” or “Jemez Pueblo.” If you don’t have this information, the more general “Indigenous” or “Native American” are fine. Avoid “Indian,” which derives from Christopher Columbus’s misunderstanding that he had reached the Indies in 1492; the term continues in use, however, by federal and state governments and some Native Americans. Natives today residing in urban areas often maintain ties with their tribes or nations, which live on reservation lands. Terminology differs in Alaska (“Alaska Native”) and Hawaii (“Native Hawaiian”), Canada (“First Nations”), and Central and South America.