Indigenous Land and Cultural Heritage Acknowledgment

As part of the Walters Art Museum's commitment to understanding the deepest histories of its artworks, buildings, institutional legacy, and indeed the land on which we sit, we acknowledge the original stewards of the objects we hold and the territory on which the City of Baltimore, and subsequently the museum, were created.

The Walters Art Museum and the City of Baltimore occupy the ancestral lands of the Piscataway and Susquehannock Nations. Baltimore has become a home to members of many tribal nations, most notably the Lumbee, who migrated here in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for a variety of reasons, including to pursue work opportunities and in an effort to escape the increasing restrictions of Jim Crow segregation in the South. Many Indigenous communities were displaced from their lands, an American history whose legacies of dispossession and injustice they still contend with today. The museum recognizes and honors the ancestors of all people who came before us, respecting that people have existed on this land within the context of differing circumstances: some were brought here forcibly against their will, some migrated here in search of a better life, and others have inhabited this land for generations. Indigenous peoples continue to steward and celebrate the land, according to the traditions of their living and enduring cultures.

The museum also acknowledges the Indigenous peoples whose cultural heritage and artwork we currently hold in our collection. The objects and artworks represent, among others, the Olmec and Aztec cultures of North America; the Maya of Central America; the Moche and Wari civilizations of the Andean region; the Mound Builder ancestors of the Ohio River basin; the Native Alaskan villages of North America; and the Indigenous communities from the Southwestern and Great Plains regions of the United States. We also recognize that many of these objects were removed from their original contexts or acquired without the consent of the Indigenous communities that created them. We are dedicated to research that investigates the provenance of the objects in our collection and to the stewardship of cultural heritage objects in line with cultural practices. This land acknowledgment is an important step along the Walters Art Museum’s journey toward greater accountability to the Native communities of Baltimore and to the Indigenous communities represented in our collection. This statement is coupled with an ongoing institutional commitment to partnerships with local Indigenous communities, to community focused programming, and inclusive interpretation as outlined in our institutional Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (D.E.A.I) goals. The museum, as a site for sharing visual culture, has a responsibility to promote visibility by actively and respectfully valuing the history, culture, and traditions of Indigenous generations past, present, and future.

Frequently Asked Questions about Land Acknowledgments

What is a land acknowledgment?

A land acknowledgment is a written or verbal statement to show respect toward the original inhabitants of a particular place, recognizing the deep and painful history of injustices inflicted upon Indigenous communities and their land by European settlers.

The practice of land acknowledgment can:

  • Offer recognition and respect for Indigenous communities (people living in a particular place before colonial interference).
  • Counter the “doctrine of discovery” with the true story of the people who were already here.
  • Create a broader public awareness of the history that has led to this moment.
  • Begin to repair relationships with Native communities and with the land.
  • Support larger truth-telling and reconciliation efforts.
  • Remind people that colonization is an ongoing process, with Native lands still occupied due to deceptive and broken treaties.
  • Take a cue from Indigenous protocol, opening up space with reverence and respect.
  • Inspire ongoing action and relationship in support of Indigenous communities.

Sources: Native Governance Center, “A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgment,” October 22, 2019U.S. Department of Arts and Culture. “Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgment.”

To learn more about land acknowledgments, see the Maryland State Arts Council’s “Land Acknowledgments” resource.

Why is this land acknowledgment important to the Walters Art Museum?

As part of the Walters Art Museum’s commitment to understanding the deepest histories of its artworks, buildings, institutions, and the land on which we sit, we acknowledge the original stewards of the territory on which the city of Baltimore, and subsequently the museum, were created.

Land acknowledgment prompts us to be mindful not only of our past, but also our present and future roles in upholding, deconstructing, and changing colonialist modes of thinking and structures in our museum and the field.

This land acknowledgment statement is coupled with an ongoing institutional commitment to partnerships with local Indigenous communities, to community focused programming, and to inclusive interpretation outlined in our institutional D.E.A.I. goals. We commit to continuing to develop programming that highlights Indigenous peoples, art, and culture.

For more information, explore our Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion goals.

Where can I find out more about local Indigenous material culture, art, and artists practicing today?

Information about specific groups:

What actions has the museum already taken towards a more inclusive interpretation of the past?

Curators, conservators, educators, and other staff conduct ongoing research about the works we hold in the collection and its provenance. We are actively engaged in ongoing research about works
in our collections made by Indigenous creators. As we learn more, we will make new information available on our online database.

See our Collections Management Policy to know more about how research informs our decisions to acquire, evaluate, or even de-accession works in the collection.

Who did the Walters consult with to create the land acknowledgment?

Walters staff members partnered with a range of stakeholders and community advisors. We wish to thank Kenah Consulting, Christine Duckworth, Jess McPherson, Ashley Minner, and Erin Washington, among others, for their guidance on this project.

What was the relationship between Jim Crow laws and Native Americans?

The term “Jim Crow laws” refers to legislation enacted ca. 1877–1950 that enforced racial segregation and limited civil rights and voting opportunities for non-white people. In parts of the south with large Indigenous populations, separate facilities were mandated for white people, African Americans, and Native Americans in  places such as schools, churches, buses, and restrooms.

Indigenous peoples throughout much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries faced an additional obstacle to voting: many were not considered citizens until the passage of the Indian Citizen Act of 1924. This law granted Indigenous peoples the right to vote, however at a significant cost. Tribal members were forced to give up their land and traditions far into the twentieth century.

How can I reach out to the Walters Art Museum with additional questions or comments?

If you have additional questions or would like to share feedback with us, please contact [email protected].