SAAM Shared Stewardship & Ethical Returns Policy

Amendment to SAAM CMP

Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns

The Museum adheres to the Smithsonian Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns Policy, adopted on April 29, 2022. The Museum recognizes the value of wide representation in its collection, the benefit of preserving and respectfully making available to the public a diverse range of objects and stories, and the role of museums as collaborative custodians of cultural legacies.

The Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns Policy applies to accessioned collections, and collections information, images, scans, replicas, and other material associated with accessioned collections subject to a shared stewardship arrangement or ethical return. Shared Stewardship could mean outcomes such as restriction of use and consultation on care. The Director has the authority and responsibility to establish and implement the unit policy and processes for responding to inquiries and requests for return. The Museum will respond in a timely manner to any inquiries or requests related to the Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns Policy. Information on inquiries and how to make a request will be made available on the Museum’s public website. The Director will make the final decision with respect to the outcome of requests. The Registration Department will respond to inquiries after consultation with the Director, Deputy Directors, the Head Curator, and other museum staff as appropriate. The Museum’s Press Office will be notified of the request by the Registration Department. All inquiries and responses will be recorded in the Museum’s collection database by the Registration Department with other documentation related to the object(s) in question. The information will also be sent to the Smithsonian’s Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns Tracking System.

Evaluation Criteria

The Museum will evaluate whether the requester is the appropriate party to make the request for return [or shared stewardship] according to the following criteria:

  • What is the nature of the requester’s relationship to the object(s)?
  • Does the requester have authority to act on behalf of the party seeking return [or shared stewardship]?
  • Are there competing inquiries or requests, or other parties with potential interest in the object(s)?

The Museum will evaluate whether the request presents an appropriate case for return or shared stewardship based on ethical considerations according to the following criteria:

  • Circumstances of original acquisition
  • Circumstances of SAAM acquisition
  • Evidence of use of force or coercion or lack of consent in connection with acquisition at any point in the chain of ownership
  • Would retaining the object perpetuate harm or be inconsistent with Smithsonian values?
  • Would returning the object to the requester be consistent with Smithsonian values or redress the harm or circumstances of acquisition?

Artistic, cultural, or monetary value or ability to meet SAAM’s standards of care will not be considered in evaluating the request.

Depending on the Museum’s decision after research, the following may result:

  • Deaccession and ethical return of object and associated collections information
  • Restriction of use
  • Consultation on care
  • Changes to documentation
  • Metadata enhancement
  • Denial of request

Decisions on arrangements that result from a request for ethical return must be approved by the Under Secretary for Museums and Culture, in consultation with OGC and NCP.

Before an object may be deaccessioned and returned for ethical reasons, the Director must consult with the Under Secretary for Museums and Culture, OGC, and NCP, and obtain the appropriate approvals for deaccessioning required by SD 600.

Before the Museum can deny a request for the return of an object for ethical reasons, the Director must consult with the Under Secretary for Museums and Culture. If the Under Secretary concurs with the decision to deny the request, the Registration Department is responsible for documenting the decision and communicating the denial in writing to the requester with a brief statement of the justification or rationale for the decision.

The Museum will consult with NCP if costs related to these inquiries exceed the Museum’s resources.

Contact Us

To submit a shared stewardship or ethical return inquiry or request, email