Toward a Language of Possibility in Curation and Consultation Practices

Jenny L. Davis, Krystiana Krupa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Language, especially categorization and description through language, is a frequent barrier to collaboration when it comes to collections taken from Native American and Indigenous communities. This impacts collections care within institutions and for the Native people whose relatives and objects are held in those institutions. Drawing on our experiences as NAGPRA and repatriation practitioners, we offer examples of adopting a “language of possibility.” Current legal and non-Indigenous institutional nomenclature often assumes that the categories used to describe Indigenous collections are “common sense,” and adjustments to that language are often only made after direct intervention from Native American and Indigenous communities. These terms and norms of discourse originate in white, EuroAmerican ideologies of science and scientific classification, and those ideologies are inseparable from their concomitant religious and linguistic systems. Shifting to language that recognizes animacy, or allows for the possibility of it, has the potential to undo this harm before, during, and after consultation and collaboration with Native Nations and Indigenous stakeholders. Language is a site of intervention into non-Indigenous assumptions and practices that not only create barriers to consultation and repatriation, but also directly impact collections care.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-27
JournalCollections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2 2022


  • repatriation
  • consultation
  • Indigenous languages
  • terminology
  • museum practices


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