Category Archives: news article

“Laying Ngarrindjeri spirits to rest” (The Guardian)

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.


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Update on the Maliseet Canoe

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.

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Dance for Mother Earth Powwow moves off-campus

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.

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Update on the return of Maliseet Canoe

A brief article from the Toronto Star provides new developments concerning the repatriation of the Maliseet Canoe from Ireland.

FREDERICTON – One of the world’s oldest known birchbark canoes may soon be returning to the Maliseet Nation.

The university said it would meet the “competing claims for the canoe from museums interested in conservation and display, and from representatives of those whose ancestors built the canoe.”

The 180-year-old canoe, currently on loan at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, N.B., has been in Irish hands for almost its entire existence and is to be sent back to Ireland in June.

But a group from the St. Mary’s First Nation, near Fredericton, has been pressing Irish officials to hand over the artifact, currently the property of the National University of Ireland Galway.

“This is the oldest canoe of our people,” said G. Wayne Brooks, who is leading the quest for repatriation.

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Native American chief asks NUI Galway to return ‘iconic’ canoe

The Maliseet community of New Brunswick is working towards the return of a birch-bark canoe which was taken to Ireland almost 200 years ago. It presently resides in the Canadian Museum of Civilization, but the Maliseet band is working towards a permanent repatriation. It is unclear if the object changed hands under any kind of illegal circumstances, but the article does say that it has been mostly left to decay in the National University of Ireland.

Native American chief asks NUI Galway to return ‘iconic’ canoe

LORNA SIGGINS, Western Correspondent

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A NATIVE American chief has appealed to NUI Galway to return the world’s oldest known birch-bark canoe to his community in Canada.

The “Grandfather Akwiten” canoe had spent almost two centuries in Ireland before it was sent temporarily to Canada two years ago by NUI Galway (NUIG) for conservation and subsequent exhibition. The canoe remains in Canada.

The 180-year-old craft, which was donated to the university in the mid-19th century, is an “iconic” and “powerful symbol” of the Native Americans’ way of life, according to Chief Candice Paul of the St Mary’s First Nation Wolastokwiyik (Maliseet) community of New Brunswick.

However, he says it suffered more than 150 years of “isolation and neglect” and “served primarily as a home for pigeons in an institution dedicated to geological collections” at the university.

The Maliseet chief credits Dr Kathryn Moore of NUI for her work in “rescuing” the craft which she has described as a “symbol of national importance”.

The canoe was one of three built by the native American Maliseet community for British lieutenant-governor Sir Howard Douglas who arrived in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1824.

It passed into the hands of Lieut Stepney St George, who was then serving with the British imperial forces in Canada.

He transported it back home to Headford Castle, Co Galway. In 1852, it was donated to what was then known as Queen’s University in Galway by a tenant of Headford Castle, Edward Lombard Hunt.

It hung from the roof of NUIG’s Quadrangle building for decades.

Chief Candice Paul says that as indigenous people, his community suffered “many of the same forms of oppression as the Irish people at the hands of colonialism” and “much of this oppression continues”.

He says his community was not informed beforehand about or invited to a public display of the canoe at the Canadian Museum of Civilisation. His community has received much political support for permanent repatriation, he says, but says that this needs to be confirmed before the canoe is sent back to Galway this summer.

In a statement, NUIG said many members of staff, “inspired by the personal interest and commitment of Dr Kathryn Moore, were involved in the efforts to secure its conservation” in Canada.

In light of interest generated there “the university is assessing the steps which it should now take,” NUIG said.

“Any decision in favour of the permanent repatriation of the canoe would require further approval at both national and EU level,” it said.

It noted “there may be competing claims for the canoe from museums interested in conservation and display, and from representatives of those whose ancestors built the canoe” but it would “work to achieve appropriate short-term and long-term solutions”. International loans of certain artefacts are subject to national and EU regulation.

In this particular case, I find it interesting that the Maliseet are using their similar experiences of oppression to relate with the Irish people. I’ll be following new developments on the Maliseet canoe.

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Lawsuit Renews Mystery of Geronimo’s Skull


Lawsuit Renews Mystery of Geronimo’s Skull

Josh Kovner

The Hartford Courant, February 19, 2009

Just before the Presidential Inauguration this year, on the 100th anniversary of Geronimo’s death, his descendants filed a complaint asking for his bones, which had allegedly been stolen from his grave, to be returned.

That’s not all though. The bones were rumoured to have been stolen by Yale’s infamous Skull and Bones secret society. Since the society doesn’t fall under the rule of NAGPRA, the plaintiffs have had to use other tactics to get their complaint heard. From the news coverage I’ve seen on this issue, the main focus has been on the involvement of Prescott Bush. The complaint pointedly describes him as the father of Bush 41 and the grandfather of Bush 43. The complaint also names United States President Barack Obama as a defendant, since Geronimo was buried on federal military land.

The complaint tells Geronimo’s story and recounts the rumours about the Skull and Bones theft, asking for all of Geronimo’s remains to be returned. Read the full 32-page document below.

Unfamiliar as I am with the US judicial system, I’m not sure if a complaint is the same as a court case, or if this issue will ever make it to court. It’s interesting to see a repatriation claim play the publicity game so well. This story could so easily have been lost at the back of the newspaper, but the week it broke it seemed like everybody was talking about it. It even made it onto Doonesbury.


The story of Geronimo being so dear to my heart, expect more on this, if there are any developments.


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Pillagers called to account

Pillagers called to account

Rosemary Sorensen

The Australian, January 8, 2009

Michael Brand, the director of the Getty Museum in California, talks about his experiences with negotiating the return of looted artwork in this article from the Australian. I found the following passage particularly interesting:

And yet France, as Australian museologists discovered when they began talking about the repatriation of Aboriginal human remains, holds an intransigent and logically absurd position that anything acquired by the state in the past, no matter how dubiously, becomes part of French patrimony. Giving it up, therefore, would be a blow to French national pride, and is not to be countenanced.

A few weeks ago, our class watched the film Stolen Spirits of Haida Gwaii, about the repatriation of human remains from Chicago’s Field Museum. In a press conference during the Haida’s visit to Chicago, one reporter asks if the Haida are also going to try to repatriate the totem poles at the Field Museum. He expresses very much this same feeling, saying that the totem poles have become part of Chicago’s heritage. The Haida are quick to disagree, saying that despite the fact that the poles were brought to Chicago generations ago, they still belong to the Haida.

How can it be that French people can become so attached to Australian aboriginal human remains, or that Chicagoans can identify with cultural markers of a people that come from across the continent? Is it the simple pride of owning it? Does having “native” things, regardless of their origin, legitimize them in some way?

The other question that comes to mind is one of time. Is it a valid argument to say that because these artifacts, or totem poles, have been in a museum for a long time, that museum should be allowed to keep them? Obviously the museum has spent money and resources storing or maintaining its collection, but if they never should’ve had an item in the first place doesn’t this become a moot point?

It surprised me that Australian museologists would have trouble recovering Aboriginal human remains from French museums. Human remains seem to be, in most cases, the most obvious candidates for repatriation. NAGPRA puts the emphasis almost solely on human remains as claimable for repatriation. I’m less familiar with European repatriation policies, if they indeed even exist, so maybe they have different priorities. Still I find it difficult to imagine that a museum would refuse to return a person’s remains to their home country. See this similar case at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

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