Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Native American Tribe Wants a German Museum to Return Native American Scalps

In a story mirroring the Hopi masks controversy, another request for repatriation of cultural property held in foreign collections highlights the problems of applying internal US laws such as that which governs the repatriation of human remains - The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to external cases without an MOU.Melissa Eddy reports for the New York Times, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of the Chippewa Indians have sent a letter to the Karl Kay Museum in Radebuel, Germany,  demanding that the museum return 17 human scalps (four of which are on display) in order that the tribe could give those remains a proper burial. The German museum has so far refused the Chippewa:

In the guidelines drawn up last year by the German Museums Association recommending how to care for human remains, a reference to scalps from “the indigenous people of America” who “fashioned trophies from the heads of their killed enemies” is listed under exceptions to human remains acquired in a context of injustice. “Killing one’s enemy and making use of his physical remains were socially accepted acts in those cultures,” the recommendations say. Though public sentiment in the United States has slowly shifted since the 1960s toward supporting the right of indigenous peoples, especially the American Indians, to reclaim and define their own cultures from museums and institutions, no such transformation has taken place in Germany.
The German curators insist that artefacts made out of  human remains, like any other museum objects, are important as historical items worthy of preservation and protection.

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