The Portland Art Museum has apologized after asking an indigenous woman to remove her backpack baby carrier before entering.
The incident occurred on Saturday when an anonymous Karuk (an indigenous tribe in California) woman was visiting the Portland Art Museum in Oregon. The museum held a traveling retrospective for Oscar Howe – a noted Native American artist (incidentally, the retrospective was celebrating his depictions of Native American culture in his art). As per Oregonian, the local newspaper which first reported the news, the woman was stopped at the entrance and asked to remove her backpack, which was a baby carrier. It must be noted that most museums have a policy against carrying backpacks that could accidentally knock over artworks and cause damage.
Later, the woman shared a social media post where she wrote about her ordeal in the caption: “The Portland Art Museum – where being Indigenous is cool as long [as] you are part of the exhibit and not actually practicing your culture. […] The irony: we were at an Indigenous art exhibit. Racism is alive and well in these walls.”
The post soon caught the attention of the Internet and the Portland Art Museum issued a formal apology on Monday: “We deeply apologize for causing harm in this interaction. We are devastated the the family had a negative experience at the museum, especially in an exhibition celebrating Native American art. We want everyone to feel welcome here. This incident does not reflect our values as a museum, and we deeply regret that it happened.”
Kathleen Ash-Milby (Curator, Native American Art, Portland Art Museum) also told Oregonian: “The relationship between Native people and museums has not always been an easy one. We are really working hard to build our relationships with our local Native constituents and I think this makes us all really sad that it happened and it could be setting us back in those relationships.” The museum also said they would consider amending their rules to make exceptions for baby-carriers.