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The new plaque installed on the Met’s façade. Photo by Bruce Schwarz/the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The new plaque installed on the Met’s façade. Photo by Bruce Schwarz/the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Met Installs Plaque Honoring Lenape People, on Whose Land It Sits

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on Tuesday installed a plaque at its main entrance acknowledging that it is sited on the homeland of the Indigenous Lenape people.

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art is situated in Lenapehoking, homeland of the Lenape diaspora, and historically a gathering and trading place for many diverse Native peoples, who continue to live and work on this island,” reads the plaque. “We respectfully acknowledge and honor all Indigenous communities—past, present, and future—for their ongoing and fundamental relationships to the region.”

The Lenape, who follow a matrilineal clan system, at one time occupied a swath of land spanning the East Coast from New York to Delaware; when Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano met them in New York Harbor in 1524, they numbered some fifteen thousand in what is now New York City. By 1682, when English colonizer William Penn encountered them, their numbers had already been tremendously reduced owing to smallpox, brought to North American shores by Europeans. The Lenape were forced westward during the last decades of the eighteenth century by encroaching colonization, and by the mid-nineteenth century had been forcibly resettled by the US government in Oklahoma, where they largely remain today.

The Met has recently sought to integrate works by Indigenous artists into its collection and exhibitions, with varying results. In 2018, the institution opened the ongoing exhibition “Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection,” featuring some 100 Indigenous works donated by the Dikers in 2017. That effort was met with outrage by the Association on American Indian Affairs, who contended that the museum failed to properly consult with tribal representatives ahead of the exhibition. The Met denied the allegations. In 2019, the museum commissioned two reinterpretations of Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 Washington Crossing the Delaware from Cree painter Kent Monkman, showing them in the Great Hall. Last year, the museum named Patricia Marroquin Norby its first full-time curator of Native American art.

“The Met has a responsibility to share truthful narratives of our past and present,” said the museum in a statement. “It’s not enough to simply install a plaque on a building, however. Even more meaningful is the museum’s commitment to pursue substantive collaborations with diverse Indigenous communities, to actively embody our respectful acknowledgment and to effect social change beyond our doors.”

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