Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns

The Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) has long prioritized a collaborative, community-centered practice, and functioned as an incubator and repository of people’s history. The museum’s collection preserves a diversity of voices and materials, and reflects the benefits of community input in collection-building, interpretation, and collection care. As a matter of policy, the museum welcomes comments, inquiries and requests about collections and their ownership histories.

The Smithsonian’s SSER Policy

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

Making a SSER Request at ACM

In the event that any stakeholder believes their materials have been acquired or handled unethically, ACM’s Shared Stewardship and Ethical Returns Policy outlines a formal pathway for meaningful consultation and collaboration in a manner that emphasizes transparency and respectful engagement. You may submit your inquiry by filling out the short questionnaire, below.


Requests will be acknowledged within 10 business days, and in most cases, ACM expects to provide a response within three months. When submitting a request, please be sure to generate a copy of the submission for yourself by selecting the "Send me a copy of my responses" option at the end of the form. If you have any questions before we reach out to you, please contact

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