News & Politics

The Smithsonian Just Appointed Its First Native Woman Museum Director

Cynthia Chavez Lamar will head the National Museum of the American Indian, starting next month.

Cynthia Chavez Lamar. Photo by Walter Lamar, courtesy of the Smithsonian.

The first Native woman to be named a Smithsonian museum director will take the helm of the National Museum of the American Indian on February 14. The Smithsonian announced the appointment of Cynthia Chavez Lamar to the role earlier this week.

Chavez Lamar is currently the museum’s acting associate director for collections and operations. In that position, she leads efforts to effectively manage and care for the museum’s more than 1 million objects and photographs, and more than 500,000 digitized images, films, and other media. She is an enrolled member at San Felipe Pueblo, and her ancestry also includes Hopi, Tewa, and Navajo. 

As museum director, Chavez Lamar will oversee its three facilities: the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall, the George Gustav Heye Center in Lower Manhattan, and the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland. 

“Dr. Chavez Lamar is at the forefront of a growing wave of Native American career museum professionals,” Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch said in a press release. “They have played an important role in changing how museums think about their obligations to Native communities and to all communities.”

In the same release, Chavez Lamar said she plans to “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…in the interest of further informing the American public and international audiences of the beauty, tenacity, and richness of Indigenous cultures, arts, and histories.”

Chavez Lamar has also previously served as assistant director for collections at the museum, and as an associate curator. She is the third director in the history of the National Museum of the American Indian, which was established in 1989. She succeeds Kevin Gover (a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma), who is now the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Museums and Culture. 

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.