After 87 years in a Smithsonian collection, bones of Igiugig ancestors return home

Avery Lill, Klog, Public Radio for Alaska's Bristol Bay
September 19, 2017
"About half of Igiugig’s 69 citizens crowded into Saint Nicholas Orthodox church last week. The nave was hazy with incense as the priest conducted the funeral service in a mix of English and Yup’ik. In the center of the room sat three handmade, wooden coffins. Inside were the bones of 24 men, women and children from the now abandoned settlement of Kaskanak.

Their remains were unearthed 87 years ago by Aleš Hrdlička, who was the head of the Anthropology department in what is now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. During his 1931 trip to Bristol Bay, he likely excavated remains near Aleknagik, Ekwok, Koliganek and other communities as well.

The question of how people originally came to North America and from where drove him to dig up the bones of Native Americans all around the United States. Historians estimate that he took thousands to Washington D.C. for further research.

After more than eight decades in the museum’s collection, Igiugig’s ancestors finally returned home."

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Metepenagiag First Nation celebrates return of 60,000 artifacts

Elizabeth Fraser, CBC News, New Brunswick 
August 25, 2017

"A special ceremony will take place this weekend to mark the return of thousands of artifacts to Metepenagiag First Nation from provincial facilities across New Brunswick.

Over several decades, about 60,000 artifacts were discovered on the shores near the community, formerly known as Red Bank, located west of Miramichi.

Metepenagiag Heritage Park Inc. is now working with New Brunswick's Archaeological Services Branch to repatriate the items which, until now, were conserved by the province.

To celebrate this, the community is holding a special repatriation ceremony on Saturday at 11 a.m., as part of its Canada 150 anniversary event.

"The artifacts are a direct link to the community's sacred path," said Claude DeGrâce, chair of the Metepenagiag Heritage Park. "It brings pride to the community, it's their heritage."
Returning home

The artifacts, which are about 3,000 years old, were discovered in the early 1970s by local historian Joe Mike Augustine, who approached provincial archeologists with his find.

"I feel like I'm playing a role in history," said Patricia Dunnett, Augustine's granddaugther and general manager of the Metepenagiag Heritage Park.

"It means a lot to me to be a part of the family and see the artifacts being brought back to Metepenagiag … he would have been so proud.""

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Ainu skull stolen in 1879 makes historic return from Berlin

Fukimo Yoshigaki, The Asahi Shimbun
August 3, 2017

"An Ainu skull that was dug up by a German grave robber in 1879 has finally returned from Berlin to its homeland in Hokkaido.

The repatriation at the behest of the Japanese government makes Germany the first nation to officially return the remains of an Ainu individual.

A handover ceremony was held at the Japanese Embassy in Berlin on July 31, and the skull was placed temporarily in a charnel house for displaced Ainu remains at Hokkaido University on Aug. 2.

An Ainu ritual to pray for repose of soul of the dead, called “icarpa,” is scheduled to be held Aug. 4.

“The remains of our ancestor must be pleased to be back home,” said Tadashi Kato, executive director of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, after placing the skull in the charnel house. “We would like to give it a hearty icarpa, and tell it how pleased we are to have restored its honor and dignity.”

The skull had been in the collection of Berliner Gesellschaft fur Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte (Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology, and Prehistory).

An academic journal said it had been “dug up under cover of night” from a cemetery in Sapporo.

The Berlin-based private academic society agreed for the return as it was “collected through an inappropriate process.”

The ceremony at the Japanese Embassy in Berlin was attended by Kato and Alexander Pashos, who heads the society.

Thousands of Ainu remains were exhumed mostly for anthropological inspection, often without proper consent of families, and some were taken abroad, starting in the latter half of the 19th century.

Hokkaido University used to have more than 1,000 sets of specimens in a collection. After a public outcry, it built the charnel house in 1984 to give them proper respect as deceased people."

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Quapaw tribe continues repatriation efforts of cultural items

The Joplin Globe
July 16, 2017

"Numerous historic artifacts now reside behind locked glass display cases in the Quapaw Tribal Museum.

Varying in size, color and material, the objects must be stored where temperature and humidity can be controlled and handled gently and with gloves. Some pieces date back hundreds of years; the oldest pot in the museum is close to a thousand years old.

Each piece, like the vessels made out of clay that feature representations of animals and people, tells part of the tribe's story and connects today's tribal members with their ancestors.

“We’ve got hundreds of pieces all over the United States,” said Everett Bandy, tribal historic preservation officer. “There are a wide range of pottery types like pots, jars and bottles.

“There have been entire books on what these different bottles and jars are used for, what the designs may have meant,” he added. “There have been a lot of people who have written dissertations and complex research trying to piece together what they think, but in a nutshell, no one is exactly or entirely sure.""

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British Museum helps return stolen artifact to Uzbekistan

Dalya Alberge, The Guardian
July 17, 2017
"The British Museum has helped to recover an important medieval Islamic artefact that surfaced in a London gallery after it was stolen from a monument in Uzbekistan.

The enormous calligraphic glazed tile – half a metre in height – had disappeared in 2014. Thieves left a gaping hole after they removed it from the magnificent entrance facade of a 12th-century monument, just over 12 miles (20km) from Bukhara, the Unesco world heritage site on the ancient Silk Road route.

Part of a high-relief turquoise glazed inscription, the tile was thought to have been lost forever until it surfaced in a Mayfair gallery, where it was being offered for sale.

The theft was not officially reported, but an Oxford scholar who had recently returned from the historic site spotted it in a catalogue published by the Simon Ray Gallery.

Ray, who had bought it in good faith, immediately contacted the British Museum, which describes the tile’s recovery as “dramatic”.

The museum will this week stage an official handover to the Uzbek embassy in London.

The decorative Islamic calligraphic tile – 52.5cm (20.7in) high and 30.5cm (12in) across – had been prised off the Chashma-i Ayub Monument in Vobkent. Its inscription, within a foliated scroll design, reads: “In the year five and six hundred” – which corresponds to AD1208-09."

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For Haida, wooden chest holds the promise of reunion with Indigenous treasures

Marsha Lederman, The Globe and Mail
July 8, 2017

"After more than a century away from home, the mountain goat moon chest was allowed to live again. Liberated from museum storage in a foreign land, the iconic chest was wheeled out to the middle of a packed rec centre gym in Skidegate, B.C., on remote Haida Gwaii, as hundreds watched. The crowds were there for a historic potlatch when the surprise guest star stole the show. No protective glass, no roped-off borders – just a dolly separating the chest from the old-growth wood floor where the Haida play basketball. A treasure itself, the box was packed with more: 25 copper shields, important symbols of wealth in Haida culture, which were handed out that Easter weekend in a powerful ceremony.

“It was absolutely magical and transformative,” says Nika Collison, who belongs to the Ts’aahl clan of the Haida Nation. “The chest itself wasn’t only transformed from being in a basement for 100 years to being back in use, it was transformed into being everything it always was. And that transformed all of us in the room.”

It was Ms. Collison’s idea, as co-chair of the Haida Repatriation Committee, to bring the chest home to Haida Gwaii, a group of islands off the Northern British Columbia coast. And it was her smarts, passion and connections that helped to broker an extraordinary loan from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), which owns the item. She proposed it as a creative repatriation: The chest would not only be displayed at the Haida Gwaii Museum at Kay Llnagaay, where it is now, but first, the pioneering agreement would allow Guujaaw, the Haida artist, activist and leader, to use it in a potlatch marking his transition to Gidansda, hereditary chief of Skedans.

That AMNH agreed to her proposal was “huge,” Ms. Collison says. “This has my colleagues’ jaws dropping around the world.”"

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Native America’s Necessary And Imperfect Law, Chip Colwell for HuffPost

Chip Colwell, HuffPost
April 28, 2017

"In the spring of 1872, the skull of an Apache woman was dug up from the earth. The year before she had been among 100 Apaches massacred by a vigilante group from Tucson, who believed her people, the Aravaipa and Pinal bands, had perpetrated a series of raids. (They were likely committed by unrelated Chiricahua Apaches.) The woman’s skull was exhumed by a U.S. Army surgeon named Valery Havard who hoped the skeletal remains could serve the new science of anthropology. He signed his name on the side of the skull and deposited it in the collections of the Army Medical Museum. The skull was later transferred to “America’s Attic,” the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History where it would stay for more than a century.

In 2013, the Smithsonian relinquished the woman’s skull to a group of Aravaipa Apache descendants for reburial. This would not have been possible except for federal laws guiding a process called repatriation—the return of human remains and cultural items to their homelands. For decades museum administrators and Native Americans clashed over the fate of collections—debating whether such objects honored humanity’s common heritage or they violated the human rights of Native Americans. These federal laws have done much to help end the war. But too many battles continue on.

Valery Havard’s action was not unique: Since 1620, when Pilgrims first plundered an Indian grave out of curiosity, Americans have habitually collected Native American remains as curios or objects of study. That habit became federal policy in 1868 when the U.S. Surgeon General ordered military personnel to collect skulls from battlefields, cemeteries, hospitals, and graves. Indian bodies soon became a cornerstone of American museums, used to build racial hierarchies that purported to show Europeans as intellectually and emotionally superior."

Call for Sessions: 2017 Indigenous International Repatriation Conference

The Association on American Indian Affairs is pleased to announce that the INDIGENOUS INTERNATIONAL REPATRIATION CONFERENCE: "Journey Home: Empowering Indigenous Communities in International Repatriation" will take place this year at the Isleta Resort & Casino in Albuquerque, NM, September 25-26, 2017. We welcome participants to come together to learn, share and discuss the very important cultural and human rights issue of Indigenous International Repatriation.

Who Should Attend?

We welcome Tribal Elders, Indigenous Traditionalists & Spiritual Leaders, Indigenous Repatriation Representatives, Native Nations, Indigenous Peoples, Federal Agencies, Government Representatives, Tribal Members, Museum Professionals and Representatives and other interested participants, and look forward to having you participate in the conference!

The AAIA invites proposals for sessions that reflect the theme of the Indigenous International Repatriation Conference: Journey Home: Empowering Indigenous Communities in Repatriation. A typical session will be 1.5 hours and allow for a 20 minute question and answer period or open discussion within that time frame.

Judges for this art call welcome artists and photographers whose works fit into our conference theme, Journey Home: Empowering Indigenous Communities in International Repatriation. Work should reflect the artist's vision surrounding this very important human rights issue. This competition is open to all artists/photographers 18 years of age or older. Entries must be created in any still medium: painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, digital art, prints, fiber art, collage, installations. Artists will be asked to submit a photograph of their artwork and complete the requirements of the art submission online. Submissions will be accepted from April 27 to June 4, 2017.

SAR Lecture: Repatriation beyond the U.S.

Santa Fe New Mexican, Paul Weideman, April 14, 2017

Until 1924, Native people were not recognized as citizens in the United States. Fifty-five years later, Congress passed the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) and in 1990 the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became the law of the land. NAGPRA was enacted to address the rights of lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations to Native American cultural items, including human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.

However, the rights of Native Americans to their own cultural items ends at the U.S. border. “There are many indigenous human remains and cultural items located in private collections and museums worldwide, and there’s been a global effort over the past few years to help bring together Native people to work on this problem,” said Honor Keeler (Cherokee Nation), who is one of the participants in a free panel discussion at the School for Advanced Research (SAR) at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19.

Keeler is the director of the International Repatriation Project, which she brought to the Maryland-based Association on American Indian Affairs. She joins attorneys Kate Fitz Gibbon, Fitz Gibbon Law, Santa Fe; and Gregory A. Smith, Hobbs Straus Dean & Walker, Washington, D.C., for the talk “At the Forefront of Repatriation: New Policy and Impact Beyond the United States.” The moderator is Brian D. Vallo (Pueblo of Acoma), director of the Indian Arts Research Center at SAR.

“My big focus will be on international repatriation for indigenous peoples worldwide,” Keeler told Pasatiempo. “NAGPRA was an amazing piece of legislation that was passed just following the National Museum of the American Indian Act, and ARPA had only come into play in the late ’70s, so many indigenous people in the U.S. were working toward addressing this horrific issue of having had their ancestors and cultural items dug up from graves and studied without their free, prior and informed consent.”

Education is an important focus for Native people hoping for the repatriation of revered cultural objects from overseas. “Education is important,” she said. “It’s breaking down those stereotypes and teaching about cultural appropriation. This is a human rights issue.”

The Association on American Indian Affairs was established in 1946. It dates back to a 1922 organization named Eastern Association on Indian Affairs, which was founded in New York to help a group of Pueblo people who were trying to protect their land rights.

The School for Advanced Research is at 660 Garcia St. Call 505-954-7207 or visit for more information.

Kennewick Man: Build bridges to prevent a repeat of ill will

Seattle Times, Dr. Chip Colwell
March 3, 2017

"Kennewick Man is back in the earth. On December 16, 2016, President Barack Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which included a brief section that transferred control of the contested 9,000-year-old skeleton to five claimant tribes. Last week, the tribes reburied the Ancient One, as they call him, in a grave not far from where he was found along the Columbia River.

The 20-year battle over North America’s most famous ancient man has come to a close. But, at this rate, the repatriation wars will not end.

Although many museums and tribes amicably work together to follow the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), some continue to stoke controversy by pitting the interests of science against those of Native Americans. For instance, a letter last year in the journal Science likened the legal process of repatriation in the U.S. to terrorists’ destruction of heritage in the Middle East, a crime against humanity.

Such antagonism sustains conflict rather than offering real solutions. Repatriation demands will not cease. Native Americans will not yield their rights. The legal skirmishes over skeletons and ideological fights waged in magazines thus constitute an endless war given the millions of artifacts in American museums and yet discovered in the ground. Congress cannot create a law — as it did for Kennewick Man — for every skeleton in America’s closest."

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Guest Article: 2016 Indigenous International Repatriation Conference: A Global Dialogue on “Shifting the Burden” in Museology

Written byBlaire Topash-Caldwell*

Last fall the Association on American Indian Affairs held the 2016 Indigenous International Repatriation Conference at Isleta Resort and Casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Centering on a theme of “Shifting the Burden,” the topics and discussions covered in this important event ranged from viewing repatriation in terms of morality and human rights frameworks to providing research tools and strategies for tribes to use in their engagements with the labor intensive work of repatriation in their home nations or across international borders. The conference was well attended by not only museum professionals, but by state officials, tribal leaders from all over the world, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, policy makers, art students from the Institute of American Indian Arts, anthropologists, tribal lawyers, elders, and even law students from the University of New Mexico just to name a few.

I attended this conference as a volunteer. As a result, I was not able to hear from panelists in all sessions. However, my experience of the important dialogues taking place have largely centered on both Native and non-Native  collaboration as well as the recognition of shared cultural and historical ethics between tribal communities and museums, even in distant places. These entanglements are realized in moments when Native peoples are able to effectively have agency and voice in the development of museology around the world. One panel entitled, “Museums: Meaningful Consultations, Ethics & Policies in International Repatriation” provided particularly telling examples of these challenges and developments. Panelists discussed that with the adoption of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and sometimes with the consultation requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), nationally there have been important strides toward the protection and repatriation of ancestors, ceremonial items, and other objects of cultural patrimony. The international arena, however, is a completely different story. Panelists discussed that not only are there limited or nonexistent legal recourse for tribes to have their ancestors and scared objects returned to them from other places around the world; but it is also compounded by different cultural expectations and language barriers. One panelist, Colleen Medicine (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe), Cultural Repatriation Specialist, shared her experiences in the unsuccessful repatriation of an Ancestor from the Karl May Museum in Germany. One particularly telling example of this issue comes from her story about the trip she and tribal members took to the museum. Medicine and her colleagues traveled to the Karl May Museums in order to explain the spiritual and material violence the museum was causing as a result of putting our Ancestor on display. By coincidence, during this ineffective meeting, the town outside erupted in an exhibition of Native American “culture” with German citizens dressing up and parading about in their debaucherized interpretations of Native North American regalia. Medicine’s story showcases the challenges that Indigenous peoples around the world face when their limited power and legal agency is coupled with seemingly incompatible ethics and worldview of colonial or otherwise more powerful nation-states.

Another example, however, shows promise for the impact that meaningful dialogue can have in museum relations with Indigenous communities. Marcella LeBeau (Cheyenne River Sioux), Wounded Knee Survivors Association, told a compelling story about her experiences repatriating a Ghost Dance shirt from the Kelvingrove Museum in Scotland. Working with the museum and ultimately providing them with a non-ceremonial copy of the shirt, LeBeau’s work not only resulted in the successful return of this sacred object, but opened up creative exchange of ideas between Native peoples and the museum. These exchanges ultimately had material effects on the structure of Scottish cultural resource management policy and practice such as the development of repatriation policies and protocols which did not previously. This process of repatriation, and experiences similar to it, are what we as both Indigenous peoples and intellectuals hope the future of museology can be.

Rebecca Tsosie (Yaqui), Professor of Law and Special Advisor to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Arizona and James E. Rogers School of Law gave a powerful keynote address at the conference. Contextualizing the unequal scale of power for some groups’ cultural patrimony over others, she asks (not verbatim), Do you think an American object of national patrimony like the Constitution or the original American flag would sit in the British Museum? Of course not! That would demand it back; and they would get it! As the original Native nations to this land, she argues that we deserve the same agency and power. She also pointed to the crises of “check-the-box” style consultation of some museum professionals and state officials while drawing parallels in her speech to the joke that capitalist enterprises make of cultural resource protection laws. This is, Tsosie argues, particularly problematic when large amounts of capital and private property are in involved since these powerful and large-scale undertakings often evade cultural resource protection laws like NEPA and NHPA. As such, Tsosie’s passionate speech recognizes the concurrent Dakota Access Pipeline protests (NoDAPL) when she asks what we are to do in an age when increasingly desperate and lethal forms of natural resource extraction are not only demolishing our Ancestors and sacred sites, but our access to clean water? What good does consultation do when we aren’t operating within the same set of moral obligations to Mother Earth, to our children, and to our grandchildren? Whose burden is it? Indigenous peoples cannot carry that burden alone.

Paralleling the issues of this event, a field hearing was held on October 18th by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Committee discussed how to prevent the trafficking of Native American objects of cultural patrimony and ceremonial items across national borders. The office of Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) chaired the hearing and released a comment stating that “New
Mexico is home to 23 tribes whose cultural heritage is harmed by the theft of sacred and culturally significant objects, and the illegal trafficking of sacred and cultural items is an issue for tribes throughout Indian Country.” In response to this issue, Udall has sponsored a resolution called Protect Patrimony Resolution which “condemns the theft, illegal possession or sale, transfer, and export of tribal cultural items.” These critical discussions in the academy, in museums, and at the policy level all revolve around the central challenges of our time: attaining the full actualization of the conditions of representation authority of our heritage, the rights of our Ancestors to walk on in peace, and the shared moral imperative we all have to each other, future generations, and Mother Earth.

*Blaire Topash-Caldwell is an enrolled member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. Her research focuses on environmental policy, Native American women’s role in the protection and revitalization of local ecologies, and the role that coalitions between non-tribal environmental agencies and Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge holders play in the resistance of invasive resource extraction in the Great Lakes region.