In April 2022, the Smithsonian adopted a Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns Policy. The policy acknowledges that ethical norms and professional best practices in collecting have changed. The Smithsonian has collections that it would not have acquired under present-day standards. Although the Smithsonian has legal title or custody of its collections, continued retention or sole stewardship may cause harm to descendants or communities and be fundamentally inconsistent with the Smithsonian’s ethical standards and values. In these circumstances, shared stewardship or ethical return may be appropriate. 

The Smithsonian recognizes the value of community representation in its collections. Preserving and making available to the public—with honor and respect—a diverse range of collections, stories, and histories is essential to carrying out the Smithsonian’s role as collaborative custodian of cultural and historical legacies. Therefore, the Smithsonian is committed to working transparently and in consultation with individuals, descendent communities, and other stakeholders to consider matters of shared stewardship and the potential return of collections based on ethical considerations. 

“This new policy is a cultural shift in our concepts of possession, ownership, and stewardship of collections. Its adoption is an expression of our values and commitment to meet our ethical obligations as a national and international cultural institution.” – Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III 

MCI's Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns Policy confirms our commitment to working respectfully with the communities and families from whom the Smithsonian’s collections have originated. We welcome requests and inquiries regarding the objects or samples housed at MCI and any associated documentation and research materials developed from MCI's work on Smithsonian objects and samples. MCI-generated documentation may include information, research, data files, scans, and images.  

If you would like to inquire about an item in MCI's collection or any Smithsonian collections that were treated or analyzed at MCI, please email us at You will receive confirmation of receipt of your request within two weeks and we may ask questions to clarify your request. Each request will be reviewed by our Acquisitions Committee within two months. A fully documented response will be returned to the requester within three months of the initial request.