The Smithsonian Institution has appointed Cynthia Chavez Lamar as director of the National Museum of the American Indian.
Chavez Lamar — who is a member of San Felipe Pueblo, a Native American tribe from the middle of the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico, will take office on February 14.
“I don’t see this as something that I achieved on my own,” Chavez Lamar, who is also of Hopi, Tewa and Navajo descent, said in a phone interview Tuesday.
“There are many Indigenous and Indigenous peoples before me who have played leading roles,” she added, “who have struggled and persevered to ensure that our stories and perspectives as ‘Indigenous people are heard.’
Chavez Lamar, 51, has served as the museum’s acting associate director for collections and operations since January 2021. She has been deputy director of collections since 2014.
She will oversee the museum’s three facilities: the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington; the George Gustav Heye Center in New York; and the Cultural Resource Center in Suitland, Md., which houses the museum’s collections, conservation laboratories, and conservation and repatriation offices.
She earned a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of New Mexico, an MA in Native American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a BA in Studio Art from Colorado College.
Chavez Lamar will be the third director of the museum, whose Washington headquarters opened in 2004. She succeeds Kevin Gover, a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, who left in January 2021 after 14 years. He is now the Smithsonian’s undersecretary for museums and culture. Machel Monenerkit, a citizen of the Comanche nation, has served as the museum’s acting director since Gover’s departure.
The museum has one of the largest collections of Indigenous and Indigenous artifacts in the world – with over one million artifacts and photographs and over 500,000 digitized images, film and other media.
“I have worked to connect native and indigenous people to the collection,” said Chavez Lamar, who said she plans to stay in Washington. “Moving forward, this is something that I think is especially important for the National Museum of the American Indian.”