This year, the annual Mother Earth Powwow, held by the Native American Students Association at the University of Michigan, was moved off-campus. The move was in response to conflicts over artifacts held in the University’s Museum of Anthropology.
The move follows more than a year of controversy about the University’s continued possession of more than 1,900 remains and artifacts housed in the Museum of Anthropology that the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe claims belong to the tribe. Last March, members of the tribe appeared before the University Board of Regents to request the artifacts be returned.
Since then, the University has refused to return the relics, claiming they are “culturally unidentifiable” and returning them would violate federal law. According to the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, museums must retain possession of Native American artifacts if they cannot be identified with a specific tribe.
In part because of the University’s handling of this issue and in part to reduce the University’s involvement with the powwow, the Native American Student Association decided last month to move the yearly powwow away from University property this year.
In an interview with the Daily last month, NASA Co-chair Conner Sandefur said the move took place because NASA had a desire to shift the powwow’s management away from the University’s Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and back to the Native American community.
“We are taking back our central control of the powwow to honor our community,” he told the Daily in early March. “One of the great things that have happened this year is we have been able to connect with the greater community. Native American students get to meet elders who feel comfortable coming because it’s not within the confinements of the University setting.”
(via The Michigan Daily)
This article reminded me of another similar story I read recently. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science deicede to stop holding its annual Buffalo Feast, despite its popularity, because it felt that the message it conveyed was negative. The museum staff felt that the Native community might not feel welcome at the museum outside of the Buffalo Feast, so they decided to start focusing more on involving the Native community in all aspects of the museum.