This week’s readings offered an interesting examination of the ethical problems facing many museums. The primary difficulty in dealing with these issues is attempting to determine what is ethical versus what is “legal”. Ideally, the artifacts from Native American tribes should be returned to their rightful owners, whether that be the tribe itself or descendants. Problems arise, however, when multiple tribes all lay claim to the same artifact or when there is no official, recognized group that represents the tribe in existence. Do museums need to remove these objects from exhibits? At what point does the educational benefit to the public outweigh the cultural traditions of the tribes? If an item has no direct or easily discernible connection to a living member of the tribe, does it still need to be repatriated?
I also found the article on the issue of deaccessioning fascinating. While all collections should be reevaluated in order to ensure that they are meeting the goals of the institution, I can see where problems could arise. Something that could be viewed as having little to no value to a collection now could become quite a significant asset in the future. On the other side, something that a museum elects to keep could later be found to be relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Additionally, what if something a museum elects to deaccession is later found to be culturally significant to a group of people who demand that the item be repatriated to them? Although I think we would all argue that the terms ethical and legal are very concrete, there appears to be a great deal of grey area surrounding them in the museum world that many people are trying to clarify.