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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is getting its first ever Native female director: Cynthia Chavez Lamar (San Felipe Pueblo).

Chavez Lamar will oversee the museum’s three facilities: the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in Manhattan, and the Cultural Resources Center in Maryland, which houses the museum’s collections and its repatriation offices.

Chavez Lamar has worn many hats at the museum, beginning as a museum intern in 1994 and later serving as an associate curator. Since early 2021 she has served as the acting associate director for collections and operations. She succeeds former director Kevin Gover (Pawnee), who moved to Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Museums and Culture in Jan. 2021 and was temporarily replaced by Machel Monenerkit.

She also previously served tenures working as the director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from 2007 to 2014, and as the director of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico from 2006 to 2007.

“I am excited to begin my tenure as the director of the National Museum of the American Indian,” Chavez Lamar said in a statement today. “I am looking forward to leading and working with the museum’s experienced and dedicated staff. Together, we will leverage the museum’s reputation to support shared initiatives with partners in the U.S. and around the world to amplify Indigenous knowledge and perspectives all in the interest of further informing the American public and international audiences of the beauty, tenacity and richness of Indigenous cultures, arts and histories.”

The new director’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree from Colorado College in studio art, a master’s degree in American Indian studies from UCLA and a doctorate in American studies from the University of New Mexico. 

She also sits on the advisory group for Indigenous North America at the Princeton University Art Museum, and she is a member of the advisory board at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, where she holds an honorary doctorate for her museum work.



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