Cultural Resources at the Museum of Us

For over 100 years, the Museum of Us has been responsible for the stewardship of hundreds of thousands of cultural resources originating from across the globe. Currently, we hold over 75,000 ethnographic items; 100,000 images and 300 linear feet of archival materials; 300,000 archeological items; and over 7,500 ancestral human remains. Most cultural resources are of Indigenous origin with more than 200 Indigenous communities represented from within the United States and over 200 Indigenous communities internationally. These holdings are particularly extensive in basketry, ceramics, textiles, archaeology, and ethnographic photography.

Today, we recognize that the vast majority of these cultural resources came to us through inequitable and colonial pathways. To learn more, please visit the Decolonizing Initiatives page and review our Colonial Pathways Policy and Curation of Human Remains Policy. These policies govern how we steward cultural resources through prioritization of Indigenous knowledge, continuous consultation, and integration of decisions by Indigenous communities around their cultural resources. Learn more about the History of Cultural Resources & Exhibits.

Contact for Inquiries

Please contact the Cultural Resources Department for further information at 619-239-2001 x 44 or

Access to Cultural Resources

A moratorium on access to cultural resources is currently in place for all non-Indigenous researchers. Persons requesting access to Indigenous derived cultural resources need the approval of the affected community and/or lineal descendants. We will share contact information for the community’s representatives when possible, but it is up to the researcher to make contact and it is the researcher’s responsibility to obtain permissions. Researchers must provide documentation that they have received authorized consent before we may approve the request.

Indigenous persons requesting access may require permission from the affected community. Community authorized consent is not required for family members related to the individuals pictured in photographs or makers of ethnographic cultural resources.

These approval processes also apply to Image Reproduction Services requests.

Image Reproduction Services

Persons interested in using images of cultural resources must first obtain permission from the affected Indigenous community per the Access to Cultural Resources policy. Images of cultural resources may be made available upon request after permissions are secured with all applicable licensing and use fees that may apply.

Requests for images of Indigenous subjects and content requested by Indigenous groups and individuals may require permissions from the affected community. Permission is not required for family members related to individuals pictured in photographs. Reproductions are provided at no charge to Indigenous groups and individuals.


The Museum of Us supports the repatriation of cultural resources to all descendent communities. Ultimately, we are interested in stewarding cultural resources only with the full consent of descendent communities. Therefore, the Museum strongly supports repatriations to descendent communities both within the United States and internationally, inclusive of Native American Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities. We take an action-oriented approach that centers the perspectives and worldviews of the descendent community. We acknowledge that the repatriation of ancestral human remains and cultural resources is an integral part of confronting past injustices and enabling the practice and revitalization of cultural traditions.

We prioritize compliance with federal and state repatriation legislation, specifically the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (CalNAGPRA). We recognize and value the Indigenous-led activism and labor that led to the passage of these civil rights legislations. We also acknowledge and respect the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which informs our international repatriation practices through our Colonial Pathways Policy.

We work very closely with descendent communities throughout the repatriation process, typically through representatives authorized to speak on behalf of their community. When addressing the repatriation of ancestral remains and cultural resources from the United States, we consult with lineal descendants, representatives for federally recognized tribes, state recognized tribes, and non-federally and non-state recognized tribes. For cultural resources originating from outside the United States, we consult with lineal descendants and descendent community leaders including traditional government representatives, cultural councils, scholars, spiritual leaders, artists, and advocates. We also consult with national governments, international Indigenous organizations, non-governmental organizations led by the descendent community, and diaspora communities within and outside the United States.

We are committed to transparency in our repatriation work by providing access to all the available cultural resources necessary for research, including but not limited to archives, accession files, maps, sound recordings, and photographs. We also openly communicate about our capacity and estimated timelines while striving to remain accessible to government and community representatives. We will also collaborate with descendent communities domestically and internationally including Tribal Nations and community-led cultural organizations in the process of securing grants to fund repatriation efforts. Staff will also provide support during consultations with United States federal and state agencies.

Policy on the Curation of Human Remains

Adopted by the board of trustees on January 25, 2017.

This policy employs the standard of informed consent as the minimal ethical standard acceptable to us for the curation of human remains in this era. Informed consent is the standard for all contemporary research practice when human subjects and human remains are involved. Applying this standard retroactively allows stakeholders whose predecessors were not agents in the disposition of their remains (or those of their ancestors) to now have input and appropriate agency in decisions about the remains of their ancestors.

This policy, and the discussion about adopting it, recognizes the contributions of those earlier generations of curators and archaeologists who worked with high ideals and for the good of humanity under the ethical standards of their day. The policy reflects an evolving understanding of best practice for our institution: one that views all people as having the right to determine what happens to the remains of their ancestors.

The Museum of Us will only accession and/or curate human remains when express written permission is given to do so by the deceased individual, their next of kin, or an authorized designee of the descendant community, and when those remains can be used to tell appropriate and compelling stories in support of the Museum’s interpretive goals. The Museum may curate human remains without the express written permission of the descendant community, in cases where that community can be shown to broadly support similar curatorial activity for human remains.

Read our Human Remains Policy FAQ.

Read our full Collections Management Policy, which includes our policy on the curation of human remains in full beginning on page 7.

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