You should go check out this discussion over at FORA.tv. Here’s the blurb:
Panelists discuss cultural property issues, asset repatriation and the release of the 2007 Yearbook of Cultural Property Law (Left Coast Press).
Panelists include: Richard Buxbaum, Jackson H. Ralston Professor of International Law, UC Berkeley; Edward Luby, associate professor of museum studies, San Francisco State University; and Rob Roy Smith, cultural resources protection attorney with the law firm Morisset, Schlosser, Joswiak and McGaw.
It’s on the long side, so if you don’t have time to watch it all I’d skip ahead to the segment called “Q7 – Rightful Ownership”. It brings up an issue that came up a lot in discussion in ANTH 433 this term: how to deal with repatriation of goods that were sold by communities a long time ago? Even if the sale was legal, how do we know it wasn’t sold under duress? Do descendants have the right to reclaim something their ancestors sold? The panel doesn’t provide an answer, and indeed it couldn’t, complex as this issue is.
Here’s an excerpt from a recent article about the Ngarrindjeri of South Australia laying repatriated remains to rest and trying to reconcile this contemporary issue with their traditional beliefs.
But six years ago, the chance to restore their ancestral spirits to country, for the first time, faced the Ngarrindjeri with a conundrum.
The return of the remains of 300 people in 2003, the first repatriation of Ngarrindjeri ancestors, filled many with fear.
There were no rituals for returning old people to country, just a strict law forbidding all contact with them.
Indeed many stayed away from the Ngarrindjeri Land and Progress Association where the remains were housed.
“There was much confusion among our people. We elders had to make a decision and we are the ones, if anything happens, we are going to have to wear it,” says Trevorrow of the turmoil.
The part that is most telling about modern perception of indigenous cultural tradition comes from commenter Silverwhistle:
Erm… Spirits, & c… None of it’s real, you know. And while the persecution and exploitation of live Aboriginal people is and was wrong, I find it disturbing that sentimentality is resulting in scientific and archaeological organisations handing back and reburying remains. We are now able to learn so much about our ancestors and their lives from examining their remains: DNA, isotope analysis, & c.
To put it another way:
I think it’s far more important to build a world in which the Ngarrindjeri have a higher living standard and access to higher education to be their own archaeologists and scientists and examine their own history and ancestors; not to pander to magic thinking and superstition, thereby keeping them ghetto-ised in an intellectual time-warp.
The old scientific advancement argument familiar to those who know anything about Kennewick Man comes back to haunt us. And indeed, this seems to be the most widely accepted belief in contemporary society. Science is good! But think about it: would you want your grandparents chopped up and exhibited in the name of science? Maybe there is room for a little more “sentimentality” in this process.
Allowed To Return is now on tumblr! Now that the “blog as a school project” is done, I’m trying to get back into writing here and making ATR a bit less formal. Since I started this project, I’ve been using Google Reader to star and keep track of interesting repatriation-related links that I might want to talk about on here. I thought migrating this activity to tumblr would make it more public and accessible. The tumblelog will contain close to all repatriation news articles and links I come across, while this blog will feature my thoughts on a sampling of those links. Hope you enjoy it!
Family grateful university is giving canoe back with no strings attached
from The Daily Gleaner
The Maliseet canoe is being returned! The “no strings attached” detail is important here. The saga of the return of the G’psgolox totem pole was complicated in part due to the conditions set in place by the Swedish museum returning the pole.
In fact, the community has decided to build a museum to house the canoe, but it’s important that they have the opportunity to do this of their own accord.
The article also features another positive consequence of this repatration:
“It’s a dying art. Right now, only a handful of us are building canoes in that manner,” he said.
He’s hopeful that the canoe’s return will renew interest in the know-how of his ancestors.
His father Wayne Brooks said the community has been galvanized by word the canoe is being returned
Repatriation is not only about getting objects back, it’s about preserving cultural practices and communities. Repatriated objects have the capacity to revitalize community interest in their cultural heritage, and strengthen indigenous communities.
An edited collection of valuable and timely information concerning the care and conservation of human remains in museums and academic institutions. With a foreword by Brian Fagan.
Human Remains: Guide for Museums and Academic Institutions
By Vicki Cassman
Published by AltaMira Press, 2008
ISBN 0759109559, 9780759109551
via Human Remains: Guide for Museums and … – Google Book Search.