Undergrad Spotlight: Clara Devota

Clara Devota at the Field Museum
Clara Devota at the Field Museum

Boozhoo-Aaniin. I am currently in my senior year majoring in Anthropology with a minor in American Indian and Indigenous Studies. My academic interests lie in the intersection of physical anthropology and museum studies, with a focus on the status of NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) remains in museum collections and Indigenous community–museum relationships.

Last summer, I worked on the North American Human Remains Care and Curation Project at the Field Museum of Natural History as the Mullins-Martin North American Biological Anthropology Intern. During my time at the Field, I performed osteological analysis on approximately 150 catalogue numbers of Indigenous human remains from throughout the U.S. and Canada. Additionally, I helped photograph and rehouse the individuals and their associated funerary objects. This ongoing project is designed to standardize human remains catalogues in a digitally accessible format, such that Indigenous communities have increased access to NAGPRA materials and repatriations can be more easily facilitated. This internship not only strengthened my osteology skills, but gave me insight into the realities of NAGPRA in museum institutions, and the challenges Indigenous communities face in righting the wrongs done to their cultures and ancestors.

My internship at the Field is in part due to the host of opportunities given to me by MSU and the Department of Anthropology. The most influential among these was the chance to participate in graduate level coursework, providing me greater exposure to various sub-fields and allowing me to build my skill set. My professors for these graduate courses, Dr. Todd Fenton and Dr. Heather Howard, are also my academic mentors. Their willingness to move outside their specializations and help me build my own path of study is a testament to their exceptional scholarship and dedication to their students.

It is difficult for me to recollect when I became interested in anthropology, but I feel studying what makes us human, both in body and in action, is what drew me to this major. The evolving nature of the discipline and the willingness of its practitioners to work outside their sub-fields to collaborate and create dynamic bodies of knowledge fits with my varied interests. As an Indigenous individual and citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, anthropology gave me the space to blend my research and career interests with my desire to remain close to my Anishinaabe heritage and Anishinaabewaki.

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