Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

CISA Partners with Smithsonian, Views Tribal Artifacts


Members of Georgetown’s Circle of Indigenous Students’ Alliance (CISA) partnered with two Smithsonian Institution museums to view tribal artifacts in museum archives on April 7. 

Alanna Cronk (CAS ’23), CISA’s chief liaison to the Smithsonian and a member of the Ventureño Chumash tribe, led CISA’s partnerships with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of Natural History last summer after becoming familiar with many Smithsonian collections through previous research.

In addition to CISA’s partnership with the Smithsonian, the group has also partnered with an educational liaison to develop a museum program for fall 2023 examining the evolution of Indigenous arts and the environment. This program will be hosted at the Museum of Natural History’s Q?rius, an interactive exhibit that features hands-on exploration of animals and objects from around the world. 

“It was a very moving experience for everybody and it felt really great to get to be a key player in helping facilitate a bunch of other Indigenous students to have the kind of experience I did — which is not necessarily a joyous experience in the archive, but one that does feel deeply meaningful,” Cronk told The Hoya.

Cronk, a descendant of the Ventureño Chumash basket weaver Petra Pico, whose art is part of the Smithsonian’s collection, conducted an independent project last summer on the epistemology of basket weaving through Georgetown’s Kalorama Fellowship, an award for students in the humanities, social sciences and environmental sciences with original ideas for summer research projects. 

Matthew Vestuto, an anthropological researcher and the vice chair of the Ventureño Chumash tribe, introduced Cronk to Torben Rick, the Natural History Museum’s curator of North American archaeology, who took Cronk on a tour of the Smithsonian’s Indigenous archives.

Cronk said viewing the archival cabinets at the Smithsonian brought them unexpected feelings. 

“When Rick opened the cabinets, I felt a wave of loneliness smack me in the face, and I didn’t anticipate that,” Cronk said. “I sang to the baskets in my Native language for some time, and then I went to work photographing them to confirm details for my research.”

While in the archives, Cronk also saw their ancestor’s artistic artifacts, an experience that they said was inspiring.

“I got to access some of Petra Pico’s baskets, and that’s always very exciting when you can directly hold an object one of your ancestors made,” Cronk said.

Cronk said their experience inspired them to ask Rick about a potential collaboration between CISA and the Smithsonian.

“Here I had this connection with the curator of North American archaeology himself, and then I had CISA, which I care about so much, and I mustered up the courage to ask for an opportunity for a partnership between the two,” Cronk said. 

CISA board member Tianna Young (CAS ’25), a member of the Diné tribe, said she saw a variety of Diné objects during CISA’s tour of the museum, ranging from weapons like bows and arrows to more personal belongings like turquoise jewelry and spiritual dolls.

While the trip fascinated Young, she said it also left her conflicted about how to interpret the Natural History Museum’s ownership of over 800 Diné artifacts.

“There’s the big question of ownership, of how this all got here,” Young told The Hoya. “Should I be upset or should I be honored that there are 800 artifacts here? But the answer to that question comes down to the individual, and how they choose to feel about that.”

The artifacts were typically purchased or stolen by wealthy donors or archaeologists to display in the museums’ collections. One such collector, the mining engineer George Gustav Heye, opened the National Museum of the American Indian in 1916 to display and conduct research on his collection of 800,000 pieces, which included a variety of artifacts such as Plains Indian pottery and Diné tribal shirts.

Young will transition with Rachel Two Bulls (CAS ’24) into Cronk’s role as CISA’s head liaison with the Smithsonian when Cronk graduates this spring.

Two Bulls, a member of the Lakota tribe, said visiting the museum, which displays only a small proportion of the Smithsonian’s 825,000 tribal artifacts, was a unique experience, but that it made her consider the implications of keeping so many valuable artifacts in storage.

“It leaves you wondering what you do with these spaces, with these artifacts that don’t see the light of day in this very large facility,” Two Bulls told The Hoya. “There definitely needs to be a conversation about that.” 

Two Bulls said she plans on organizing more tours and meetings between CISA and the Smithsonian in the future, including another tour of the Smithsonian’s other collections.  

“There was just so much for everyone to see and so much for everyone to think about,” Two Bulls said. “I didn’t want to rush.” 

Cronk said they anticipate furthering CISA’s partnership with the Smithsonian even after their graduation to create networking opportunities for Indigenous students interested in anthropological, historical and cultural studies. 

“The resources may have been hoarded, but they still can be used in a positive way for all Indigenous students to discover their heritage,” Cronk said. 

“It’s not always a joyous experience, but it’s an empowering and uplifting one, and it helps them develop as critical thinkers, educators and future leaders,” Cronk added.

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About the Contributor
Catherine Alaimo
Catherine Alaimo, Senior News Editor
Catherine Alaimo is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences from Scottsdale, Ariz., studying psychology with minors in journalism and French. She can perfectly impersonate Anna Delvey from "Inventing Anna." [email protected]

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