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Aurelia Toro (Chino), Basket,  Juncus and grass plant material, 1914

The Native American Collection

The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College in Claremont acknowledges that our buildings and our programs occupy unceded Indigenous land.

We recognize the Tongva people as the traditional land caretakers of Tovaangar, the Tongva world.

We are grateful to have the opportunity to work with and for the Indigenous peoples of this region and those whose ancestors and relations are represented in our collections.

We express gratitude for all those who have cared for the land we call home, and we pay respect to ancestors, elders, and relations—past, present, and emerging.

We welcome continued collaboration and guidance as we work to realize the spirit of these words more deeply and more completely.
 

Collection Overview

The language of art history, anthropology, and archaeology—among many other disciplines—is constantly evolving. Terms such as work of art and artifact and temporal designations such as pre-Columbian introduce categories imposed on a vast range of objects created through time and across continents. These categories neither reflect nor respect the diversity of material cultures around the world and the conditions of an object’s creation and use within those cultures. As we learn more about the language used by Indigenous cultures to describe their objects, the language of art history will continue to evolve.

Pomona College has a collection of approximately 4,000 Native American objects that represent more than 100 tribes and peoples in North America. The collection is particularly rich in Californian and Southwestern basketry, Southwestern ceramics, and beadwork of the Plains and Great Lakes. It includes clothing and household items, decorative works, weapons, and ritual objects. The majority of these artifacts came to the College through a series of significant gifts from a small number of donors over the past 70 years (see Provenance).

This section of the Benton’s website is devoted to contextualizing both the contents and origins of the College’s collection. Here you will find information about the objects themselves and how they came to Pomona College, and the steps that the College and the Benton Museum of Art continue to take to ensure ethical and responsible stewardship of them, including compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the museum’s outreach initiatives.

 

Search Collections

The Benton Museum of Art is eager to provide access to its collections to tribal members seeking objects made by their ancestors or contemporaries. Keyword search, images, and basic information are available through this portal. Records are continually updated to reflect current research and conversations with Indigenous community members.

Provenance

Provenance—from the French word provenir, meaning “to come from”—refers to the history of ownership of a particular object. An object’s provenance is its life story: who made it, where it was made, and the hands through which it has passed. Provenance records can include sales documentation, deeds of gifts, and even photographs of objects in specific environments.

The provenance or life stories of art, artifacts, and objects are not always comfortable narratives. Objects have been stolen or looted; they may have been bought or sold by unscrupulous dealers and collectors. For these reasons, proving and publishing an object’s provenance is a critical act of transparency for today’s art, history, and anthropology museums.

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List of Tribes/Peoples Represented in Collection

Pomona College’s collection represents more than 100 tribes and peoples. The Benton is working to adopt the names Indigenous tribes gave to themselves instead of those assigned to them by settler colonizers. This process is ongoing and requires more specific identification of objects, for which the help of Indigenous descendants of makers and scholarly experts is very welcome. Where two names are given, the first represents how the tribe names itself today, while the second (in parentheses) is how the tribe was identified in the past, retained here to reflect proper identification still in progress.

See the list of tribes/peoples represented >>

Outreach

As a teaching museum, the Benton is committed to making its Native American collections accessible and illuminating to its audience. In 2012, the museum, working with independent education consultants, developed an outreach program for third-graders at public schools in Claremont. The Native American Collection Study Center Outreach Program now reaches more than 700 students a year, engaging them with close observation of artworks, a visit to the museum’s vaults to see the works in state-of-the-art “smart” study rooms, and art-making activities that highlight the contributions of contemporary Native artists. The Benton is now poised to expand this program into more local schools as well as schools in neighboring school districts.

The Benton is also committed to ensuring that the Native American collections remain a source of inspiration and dialogue for Native and non-Native contemporary artists as well as visitors. The museum organizes a continuing series of exhibitions that invite prominent Indigenous artists to present their work in the context of objects from the Native American collections (see Edgar Heap of Birds: Nuance of Sky and Rose B. Simpson: Ground). The Benton also features works from these collections in provocative themed exhibitions drawn from its holdings. These exhibitions Stories and Art, Object, Specimen use the museum’s permanent collection, including Native American works, to probe art historical categories and investigate the act of museum work itself, and they place Native art and artifacts among other creative expressions from around the world and across time.

NAGPRA Statement

The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, as caretaker of the College’s collection of Native American art and artifacts, is committed to both the legal and ethical principles of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), the federal law that allows tribes to reclaim human remains and cultural items from museums and other institutions.

The museum actively works with Native American tribes to identify and repatriate the cultural items covered by NAGPRA, which include  human remains, associated funerary objects, unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.

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Pomona College NAGPRA timeline

On November 17, 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was signed into law by the United States Congress. This act mandates the return of specific kinds of objects to Native Americans, makes illegal their trafficking across state lines, and establishes the processes and procedures for archaeological excavations. Five categories of objects are identified in the law: human remains, associated funerary objects, unassociated funerary objects, objects of cultural patrimony, and sacred objects. The law covers any institution that receives federal funds and has possession of or control over Native American cultural items. Pomona College is one such institution.

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Resources

The following list of resources was compiled by Meranda Roberts (Northern Paiute/Xicanx), a consultant for the Benton Museum of Art and a researcher and curator at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. These lists will be periodically updated.

Movies

Basketball or Nothing (Netflix)
Indian Horse (Netflix)

Reel Injun (Amazon Prime)
Smoke Signals (Amazon Prime)
Wind River (Amazon Prime) 

Artists

Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva)
Avis Charley (Spirit Lake Dakota/Diné)
Jacenia Desmoulin (Anishnaabe)
Jason Garcia (Tewa)

Ian Kuali’i (Kanka Maoli/Native Hawaiian)
Marlena Myles (Lakota)
Geo Neptune (Passamaquoddy/Two-Spirit)
Chris Pappan (Kanza/Osage/Lakota)
Ben Pease (Apsaalooke)
Cara Romero (Chimehuevi)
Frank Waln (Lakota Hip Hop artist)
Jason Wesaw (Potawatomi)
Bethany Yellowtail (Apsaalooke fashion designer)