The American Indian collection features more than 200 objects including pottery, basketry, quill and beadwork, textiles, painting and sculpture.

The holdings are distinguished by numbers of recognized masterworks. Beyond individual pieces, are strengths in historical works from the Pacific Northwest Coast, Plains and Southeastern Woodlands and in both historical and contemporary works from the Southwest.

In 1933, crates of American Indian objects arrived at the Nelson-Atkins filled with works purchased from the Fred Harvey Company in Kansas City and the Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation in New York (now the National Museum of the American Indian). For the next seven decades, the Kansas City community generously gave American Indian works to the museum for its growing collection.

In 2001, a gift of 170 objects from Donald D. Jones, together with a fund for acquisitions, sparked the completion of the original trustees’ vision. In 2002, Fred and Virginia Merrill endowed a curatorship, a department of American Indian art was established and Gaylord Torrence was hired as founding curator. In 2009, a suite of three galleries dedicated to the art of Native peoples, and featuring more than 200 works, opened at the museum.

New gifts and purchases from around the country, along with the 2009 gift from Morton and Estelle Sosland of their private collection of Pacific Northwest Coast works of art, made the broad presentation possible. The collection continues to expand today, most notably with the 2013 gift from Joanne and Lee Lyon of early Plateau material and rare Southeastern bandolier bags.