Fri Feb 1st, 2019
Recognized for collaborating and engaging tribes in culturally-sensitive exhibits
After 11 years working devotedly for History Colorado, a charitable organization and cultural agency of the State of Colorado, Sheila Goff will retire as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Liaison and Curator of Archaeology and Ethnography. She has worked extensively with tribes who have ancestral ties to Colorado on repatriation and exhibit development – recognized for how she collaborated and engaged tribes in relationships that led to authentic conversations, exhibits and policies.
Appointed in 2007, Goff has been responsible for agency compliance with NAGPRA for human remains and cultural items in History Colorado’s collections, or as a result of inadvertent discoveries on Colorado State and private lands. She is an industry pioneer who moved culturally-sensitive policies and law forward, while helping History Colorado develop exhibits that are tribally-driven and authentic to the stories of the tribes. In fact, the combination of Goff’s role and History Colorado’s commitment to relationships with the American Indians earned History Colorado Center, the flagship institution in History Colorado’s collection of community museums, a national reputation as “the first great history museum of the 21st century” by Harold Closter, Smithsonian Affiliations Director, who also recently retired.
During her tenure, Goff published 40 Notices of Inventory Completion, repatriating 212 individuals and 272 associated funerary objects and three Notices of Intent to Repatriate for 227 artifacts. She worked with 48 tribes in this process, including Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho. In addition to these milestones, she is recognized for her incalculable achievements among museum and American Indian communities: building relationships, holding important conversations with tribes, and engaging them in culturally-sensitive matters.
“So much of what we do is measured by numbers, facts and research, which are all important in archaeology. However, as an industry, regardless of the type of museum and cultural center — from history to art and science, I believe we all must share the following best practices to truly engage tribes in our work and to tell their stories: build relationships; listen to and respect tribal perspectives; value and appreciate the American Indian culture; be open and honest with tribal representatives; and always sustain those relationships,” shared Goff. “After all, if you want a correct, meaningful interpretation of tribal cultures, you need to talk to the people you are studying.”
A farewell ceremony took place on opening night of History Colorado Center’s recently opened “Written on the Land” exhibition, which Goff inspired to tell the stories of the Ute people, Colorado’s longest continuous residents, and their role in shaping modern Colorado culture. She was presented with a traditional Bear Dance shawl, a symbol of the Ute culture, thanking her for her work with them and welcoming her as a lifelong friend of the tribes. Written on the Land was created with input and guidance from more than 30 tribal representatives, a tribute to Goff and History Colorado’s commitment to these ongoing relationships.
“Sheila helped our voices and perspectives get heard. And, in doing so, she has moved us closer to ensuring that Native American History is our shared history,” said Ernest House Jr., senior policy director of Keystone Policy Center and former executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA). “We are eternally grateful for her leadership and for History Colorado’s never-ending collaboration and storytelling with our tribes. There will always be so much more to learn and understand about our traditions and our future.”
History Colorado strives to be a place of belonging for all Coloradans and to serve as a platform for community connection and diversity, setting the groundwork to form new relationships for groups to share their viewpoints and stories. In fact, with its Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP), History Colorado’s work is ongoing – continuing to carry out the “unmarked burial process,” which honors each tribe’s specific customs and respect for the earth.
“Sheila has been a remarkable leader at History Colorado, helping us enhance the depth, history and interpretation of our collection through tribal conversations and relationships. We continue to move toward a future that’s better informed, enlightened and inclusive,” said Steve Turner, executive director of History Colorado. “Through Sheila and History Colorado’s ongoing mission, more voices, perspectives and experiences are taking place within our venues.”
Goff’s official retirement day was Jan. 15, and included a government proclamation in her honor. A national search for her replacement continues, as History Colorado’s upholds its commitment to tribally-driven collections and exhibitions; relationships with Native Americans; and the impact of NAGPRA. Passionate, qualified candidates should apply here.