Last Saturday, an Indigenous mother of Karuk descent was forced to leave the Portland Art Museum (PAM) in Portland, Oregon, after an employee told her to remove the traditional Karuk woven baby basket in which she was carrying her toddler on her back. The mother shared on Facebook that a staff member told her the basket violated the museum’s “no backpacks” policy. PAM has since published a public apology to the mother, citing policy revisions to prevent this from happening again.
“The Portland Art Museum — where being Indigenous is cool as long you are part of the exhibit and not actually practicing your culture,” the mother’s Facebook post began, directly referencing the Dakota Modern: The Art of Oscar Howe exhibition on view at the time she visited. She said that the visitor services employee, a White woman, asked her to remove the carrier, likening it to a backpack that would violate the museum’s bag policy.
“Cool item, though,” the employee reportedly said to the mother as she was shown the door. The mother also said that the employee told her she “needed to cool down and take a deep breath” when she said that “Kill the Indian, save the man,” was once a policy. The mother did not immediately responded to Hyperallergic’s requests for comment, but a spokesperson for the museum said that the visitor was not removed from the galleries, and that “no comments were made about the baby’s safety.”
“The employee who initiated the interaction was attempting to implement museum policy,” the spokesperson continued. “The visitor was asked to remove the baby carrier from her back, but was not asked to leave the museum.”
After the mother posted about the incident to Facebook, a Portland-specific activism account on Twitter shared the story in a tweet that amassed over a million views. Dozens of Twitter users called out the museum for anti-Indigenous sentiments and posted photos of other museum patrons with backpacks and baby carriers to point out the hypocrisy of the incident.
The museum has since produced a public apology via Twitter and Instagram stating that it reached out to the mother and her family and will revise its baby carrier policies to “prevent it from happening again.”
The PAM spokesperson said that the staff member “understands the impact their action had on the visitor, and is extremely regretful.” The representative also confirmed that the website has been updated as of today with the new policy indicating that while bags, backpacks, or items larger than 11 x 17 x 6 inches be left outside the museum, babies in carriers are permitted.
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