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Cynthia Chavez Lamar is the First Ever Native Woman to Serve as a Smithsonian Museum’s Director

Photo: Smithsonian

Cynthia Chavez Lamar has been approached by the Smithsonian Institution to be the director of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. This museum possesses one of the world’s most massive collections of Native and Indigenous pieces. 

The institution announced Wednesday that Lamar is the first ever Native woman to work as a Smithsonian museum director. 

In a statement, Chavez Lamar said that she was thrilled to start her new position and work with the longstanding and competent staff of the museum. She is currently the acting associate director for collections and operations of the museum. 

“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,” said Lamar. 

Chavez Lamar’s matriarchal lineage includes Hopi, Tewa and Navajo. She is also an enrolled member at San Felipe Pueblo. 

Chavez Lamar will become the third director of the National Museum of the American Indian. She is succeeding Kevin Gover, who served as director from 2007 to 2021. He is a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe. Before him came W. Richard West Jr., a Southern Cheyenne, who became the founding director of the museum in 1990. 

In 1994, Chavez Lamar apprenticed in the museum. In the early 2000s, she worked as a curator. Then later in 2014, she came back for her latest stint. 

Chavez Lamar also formerly worked 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 position, Chavez Lamar will supervise 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.

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