Selected Stories of International Repatriation

The National Museum of the American Indian has repatriated human remains and cultural items to indigenous groups in the Americas. To date, it has undertaken repatriations to indigenous groups in Peru, Cuba, and Canada.

Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow, Scotland, returned a Ghost Dance shirt that had been in the Kelvingrove Museum since 1892 to the Wounded Knee Survivors Association (WKSA). In April 1995, a WKSA delegation visited Glasgow to negotiate for the return of the shirt, and in November 1998, the Glasgow City Council voted to repatriate it. Under a curation agreement with the WKSA, the South Dakota State Historical Society will provide for the security and preservation of the Ghost Dance shirt until WKSA is able to build a museum of its own.

Chief Long Wolf was removed from a London cemetery, where he was buried in 1892, and returned to the Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. Elizabeth Knight of Worcestershire, England discovered the grave and contacted tribal members in 1992. Reburial took place at the Pine Ridge Reservation in September 1997.

American Museum of Natural History transferred human remains to Haida Gwaii of Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada, in September 2002.

Oakland Museum transferred one set of human remains to Haida Gwaii in September 2002.

National Museum of Denmark and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Chugach National Forest, transferred human remains to Alaskan villages represented by Chugach Heritage Foundation (see Notice of Inventory Completion, Federal Register, August 6, 1997).

A totem pole was returned from the Swedish Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm to the Haisla Nation of British Columbia, Canada. The totem pole was removed from near Prince Rupert, British Columbia in 1929. Negotiations for the return of the totem pole began in 1991. In 1994, Sweden granted permission for return of the pole, with the condition that it be placed in a state-of-the-art climate controlled facility. The Haisla Nation is currently involved in raising funds for such a facility.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization has undertaken a number of voluntary repatriations. In 1995, a repatriation was undertaken to the Six Nations Council (Ontario). In 1998, a large collection of human remains (over 80 individuals) from a site in southeastern Ontario was transferred to the Mohawk National Council of Chiefs. In 2000, the Canadian Museum of Civilization returned between 100 and 150 human remains to the Haida Gwaii.

Edinburgh University, the Royal College of Surgeons in London, and the Australian Museum in Sydney repatriated approximately 300 aboriginal Australians to the Ngarrindjeri people of south Australia. Aboriginal leaders say that 5,000 to 8,000 sets of remains are still being held by museums in the United Kingdom.

In July 2003, the Marischal Museum at the University of Aberdeen announced its decision to return a horned head-dress with an eagle feather trailer to the Blood Tribe in Canada. A return ceremony took place at the museum and ownership was transferred to the Blood Tribe's Mookaakin Cultural and Heritage Foundation. The head-dress was then to be taken to Canada.

In December 2017, the Berlin Ethnological Museum announced it would repatriate 9 funerary objects to the Chugach Regional Corporation in Alaska, after extensive discussions initiated by Chugach with the Museum. The objects were originally collected in the 19th century. As part of the repatriation process, the State Department conferred with DOI and submitted a formal note to the Government of Germany.

Also in December 2017, the Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes announced plans to host an exhibit of a collection of historic tribal artifacts on loan from the British Museum.

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