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Cynthia Chavez Lamar Becomes the First Native Woman to Lead a Smithsonian Museum

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A woman with grey and black hair cut into a neat bob smiles for the camera, wearing a grey sweater and a turquoise-encrusted necklace.
Cynthia Chavez Lamar will become the director of the National Museum of the American Indian. She'll be the first Indigenous woman to lead a Smithsonian museum. (Walter Lamar/The Smithsonian)

The Smithsonian Institution has tapped Cynthia Chavez Lamar to become the director of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., which has one of the largest collections of Native and Indigenous items in the world.

She will be the first Native woman to serve as a Smithsonian museum director, the institution announced Wednesday.

Currently the museum’s acting associate director for collections and operations, Chavez Lamar said in a statement that she was excited to begin her new job and work with the museum’s experienced staff.

“Together, we will leverage the museum’s reputation to support shared initiatives with partners in the U.S. and around the world to amplify Indigenous knowledge and perspectives all in the interest of further informing the American public and international audiences of the beauty, tenacity and richness of Indigenous cultures, arts and histories,” she said.

Chavez Lamar is an enrolled member at San Felipe Pueblo, and her maternal ancestry includes Hopi, Tewa and Navajo.


She’ll be the third director of the National Museum of the American Indian. Kevin Gover, a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe, served as director from 2007 to 2021, and W. Richard West Jr., who is Southern Cheyenne, became the museum’s founding director in 1990.

Chavez Lamar interned for the museum in 1994, worked there as a curator in the early 2000s and then returned for her most recent stint in 2014.

The curator, author and scholar also previously served as director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

In her new role, Chavez Lamar will oversee three facilities: the National Museum of the American Indian, the George Gustav Heye Center in Lower Manhattan and the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Md.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

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