In November 2018, French president Emmanuel Macron pledged to return 26 artifacts housed in French museums that had been taken from the African state of Benin during the early days of colonialism. More recently, Germany adopted a new policy to return items collected under circumstances that would be considered illegal by today’s standards and pledged 1.9 million euros of research funding to ascertain the origins of holdings in its cultural institutions. The British Museum, which has committed to lending out more of its holdings instead of returning them to the nations from which they were taken, faces criticism for failing to confront its role in the continuing damage of colonization.

Kimberly Christen.

Even as governments around the world begin to confront their colonial histories, the most visible conversations about Indigenous property rights have centered on the policies, anxieties, and opinions of non-Indigenous leaders. Kim Christen, the director of the Digital Technology and Culture Program at Washington State University, has developed a tool for Indigenous people to recast cultural materials within their own experiences and histories.

“I don’t want to tell a story about Mukurtu as a digital platform alone,” Christen says. “I want to tell a story about Mukurtu as a connector, as a relationship builder, as something that provides a stage for ethical conversations and ethical structures. Twenty years from now, Mukurtu might be gone, but these relationships that we put in place are still going to be there.”

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National Endowment for the Humanities