Young Wolf to steward Native American materials at Peabody and Yale Art Gallery

Scholar, artist, and curator Royce K. Young Wolf will help steward Yale’s collections of art and artifacts relating to the Indigenous peoples of North America.
Royce K. Young Wolf

Royce K. Young Wolf has been named the Peabody Museum’s inaugural collection manager of its Native American collection and the Yale University Art Gallery’s first assistant curator of Native American art. (Photo by Jessica Smolinski)

The Yale Peabody Museum and the Yale University Art Gallery have hired scholar, artist, and curator Royce K. Young Wolf to help steward their collections of art and artifacts relating to the Indigenous peoples of North America.

Beginning in June 2023, Young Wolf, who is Hiraacá (Hidatsa), Nu’eta (Mandan), and Sosore (Eastern Shoshone), as well as ancestral Apsáalooke (Crow) and Nʉmʉnʉʉ (Comanche), will serve as the Peabody Museum’s inaugural collection manager of its Native American collection and the Gallery’s first assistant curator of Native American art.

She is currently completing her tenure as an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Associate in Native American Arts and Curation and as a Presidential Visiting Fellow at Yale. Her work focuses on Native American and Indigenous language and culture acquisition and revitalization, building collaborative relationships with Indigenous peoples and communities, and visual anthropology.

At the Peabody Museum, Young Wolf will work alongside colleagues to initiate and facilitate research in the collections, direct conservation, plan for related exhibitions, and sustain partnerships with local Indigenous communities and wider communities represented in the collection. She also will be responsible for designing a new permanent Native North America exhibit when the museum reopens in 2024 following a major renovation.

At the Gallery, she will be based in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. Her responsibilities will include managing the museum’s Native American materials, organizing exhibitions and permanent exhibits, acquiring artworks, coordinating programming related to the collection, and forging relationships with Native American and Indigenous artists and communities.

“Gifting” by Royce K. Young Wolf
Young Wolf is an artist and a scholar. “Gifting,” 2022. Photograph. © Royce K. Young Wolf, courtesy of the artist.

Young Wolf credits her Indigenous communities, including her family and mentors, for supporting her education and empowering her to fill these dual roles at two of the university’s museums. In accordance with the traditions of Young Wolf’s cultures, which consider it an honor to have those who have supported and guided her to introduce her, Yale invited her elders, mentors, and colleagues to share their thoughts on her dual appointments.

Flaydina Knight and Terry Knight, Young Wolf’s parents, expressed pride in her ability to overcome adversity and embrace the traditions of her tribal communities. Terry Knight directs the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

We always felt that education should be a priority in anyone’s life. There will be barriers, but people can overcome the barriers if they really want to achieve their goals,” said Flaydina Knight. “We were there to provide for Royce. I believe she became strong through education and through respect for our traditions. She has used those tools to succeed in life.”

Chief Many Hearts Lynn Malerba of the Mohegan Tribe, which operates the Tantaquidgeon Museum in Uncasville, Connecticut, applauded the museums for appointing Young Wolf to dual positions.

I am so pleased to see the appointment of Dr. Royce K. Young Wolf as the Peabody Museum's inaugural collection manager of the Native American collection and as assistant curator of Native American Art at the Yale University Art Gallery,” Malerba said. “Her knowledge about our Indigenous people as well as her own Indigenous voice will bring an authentic perspective to the collection; one that will resonate with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike. I congratulate Yale on selecting this very talented woman to a role that will amplify all Indigenous voices through the arts.”

In her new roles, Young Wolf will seek to build and nurture relationships with local tribal nations as well as Indigenous peoples across the world.

On behalf of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, I’m pleased to congratulate Dr. Young Wolf on her new positions, wishing her much success in her new endeavors,” said Joshua Carter, executive director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. “We look forward to connecting and cultivating a relationship that is both meaningful and supportive of our mutual efforts.”

Said Gerard Baker, who is Mandan and Hidatsa and the highest ranking American Indian in National Park Service (NPS) history, and has been a mentor to Young Wolf: “I would like to take this opportunity to let everyone know how proud we are of one of our own, Dr. Royce K. Young Wolf from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, home to our Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nations. Royce comes to this position in Yale, not only with academia but more importantly with cultural knowledge as a base for her.

She has learned through traditional family life, prayer, and carrying on these strong traditions with her family today,” added Baker, a former assistant director of American Indian relations for the National Park Service. “She is in a position that she will not only be looked up to by our young Native female relatives but by all of us, and we look forward to her progress and also want to thank Yale for understanding the need to open this door to someone like Royce, our relative.”

Dr. Young Wolf is a talented scholar and skilled practitioner who will bring a wealth of knowledge to the Yale community and the Indigenous community at Yale,” added Matthew Makomenaw, director of Yale’s Native American Cultural Center and assistant dean of Yale College.

Morgan Ellen Freeman, a doctoral student in the Department of American Studies, has worked closely with Young Wolf over the past year, including assisting her with the Native American and Indigenous speaker series and being part of her “Evoking Ancestral Memory: Reinterpreting Native American and Indigenous Collections” class in the Department of the History of Art.

Royce Young Wolf is an incredibly important addition to both the Peabody Museum and the Gallery. Her pedagogical approach guided by Indigenous methodologies and extensive experience in collections research makes Young Wolf particularly well suited for this dual appointment,” said Freeman, whose areas of concentration include the contemporary art and visual cultures of Black and Native practitioners. “The future of collections care relies on collaborative practices that must take shape in a multitude of ways, all while attending to the specificity of the objects, artists, and communities at hand. Having experienced these commitments of hers firsthand in the classroom, I am thrilled by the knowledge Royce Young Wolf will bring to furthering efforts of institutional responsibility and cultural revitalization.”

David Skelly, director of the Yale Peabody Museum, and Stephanie Wiles, Henry J. Heinz Director at the Gallery, added: “From our initial conversations with Royce, and during her time at Yale as an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Associate, we recognized her immense talents and intellect. The remarks above beautifully summarize the respect for Royce and signal the indelible impact she will have at Yale in her dual appointment.”

Young Wolf hails from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. She is a member of the Ih-dhi-shu-gah (Wide Ridge) Clan and a child of the Ah-puh-gah-whi-gah (Low Cap) Clan.

She has earned a master’s degree in Native American Studies and a doctorate in Sociocultural and Linguistic Anthropology from the University of Oklahoma. A photographer and mixed media artist, her artistic practice features beadwork, feather work, sewing, quilting, landscape photography, and painting. She is eager to continue exhibit development for the Peabody this semester and prepare for teaching her course in the spring.

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