For the first time, the Birmingham Museum returns objects from its collection to two Native American tribes.The movement corresponds to Native American Cemetery Protection and Repatriation Act Or NAGPRA. A law passed in 1990 provides a route for federally recognized tribes to demand certain cultural properties. Although the process is not always drawn out, the repatriation of objects from the BMA represents years of extensive work.
“It was a long time for me because it took me a long time to figure out where my responsibilities were,” he said. Emily Hannah, Director of Museum Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Senior Curator.
Those works will be sent to Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes in Alaska The second half of this summer. However, not all works requested to be repatriated will be returned. There is a lot of research involved in determining legitimate ownership.
“I didn’t want to make a mistake on behalf of the museum. I had to do due diligence and do some research,” Hannah said.
The first letter of interest came from the tribe in 2007. To comply with NAGRPA, the museum consulted with the tribe, answered questions about the requested object, and investigated its source or origin.
Almost 10 years after communicating with tribal representatives, a delegation of six visited the museum in 2017.
“We opened all the cases and took things out of the storage. It’s most moving to be with this group as members of this tribe tell stories and have memories of certain objects. It was a great experience, “Hannah said.
The group requested 6 objects. Hannah said the three had all the claims necessary to justify returning their work to the tribe.
BMA will repatriate the large carved wooden whale fins that would have been part of the house. Hannah said it was owned by the clan, not privately owned. One individual would not have been able to leave the tribe.
“They remembered it [the artwork] And he made a very clear claim about the return, “Hannah said.
The museum will also repatriate burial staff and hats with killer whales chasing seals.
Whale fins return to the community in Wrangell, Alaska. She said tribal members are coming by sharing information about where the objects go, but they don’t have to.
“Once repatriated to the Central Council, which is the representative of the tribe, it is their discretion to share the whereabouts of the object, as the object represents an individual or clan.”
Upon completion of repatriation, BMA will lose its relationship with the artwork. She said that the relationship between museums and indigenous countries is changing in many important ways, but there is still a long way to go.
“I don’t think they have the proper training to comply with NAGPRA, especially for those trained in art history and museums. They don’t really understand the law,” Hannah said.
BMA representatives will travel to Alaska to attend the repatriation ceremony this fall.
Editor’s Note: The Birmingham Museum and Art is a program sponsor of WBHM, but the news and business departments operate separately.
Birmingham Museum returns artwork to Native American tribes
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