After 130 years, Massachusetts museum to return sacred Lakota artifacts

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The Founders Museum in Barre, Mass., will return 151 sacred Lakota artifacts to their rightful owners after more than a century, museum officials announced today.

Sacred artifacts – including ceremonial pipes, moccasins, clothes and dried umbilical cords traditionally kept by tribesmen throughout their lives – were removed from the dead at Wounded Knee by a worker tasked with cleaning up the field, then sold to a resident of Massachusetts. named Frank Root, according to museum records. Root donated the artifacts to the museum in 1892, where they have remained ever since.

South Dakota’s Wounded Knee Survivors Association has been asking the mostly closed museum to return the artifacts since the early 1990s, but they’ve been met with both resistance and confusion. In 1993, the museum curator at the time told a New York Times reporter that she considered the artifacts works of art, adding, “I’m sorry I didn’t realize the importance of these things.”

In 2007, the museum’s board attempted to return some of the artifacts to the Lakota people, but it was unclear what entity they belonged to, said board member Elizabeth Martin. Indigenous News Online.

In April this year, three descendants of the Wounded Knee Massacre visited the museum for a private meeting with the board to reinvigorate repatriation talks. Among them were Chief Henry Red Cloud of the Oglala Lakota Nation, Manny Iron Hawk of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation and his wife, Renee Iron Hawk.

As a result of this meeting, the museum agreed to hire a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) consultant to inventory its collection, consult with the tribes, and repatriate the objects.

“Ultimately, on September 29, 2022, members of the Barre Museum Association voted unanimously to return many objects considered culturally significant to the Lakota Sioux Tribe, as verified by the tribe,” said Ann Meilus, Chair of the Barre’s Board of Directors. Museum Association, which co-manages the Founders Museum with the Barre Library Association. Both entities own the items in the collection of the Founders Museum.

“It’s been a long road, but things are falling into place and things are coming home,” said Iron Hawk, a member of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation Survivors Association. Indigenous News Online. “That’s the good part of it.”

According to Melius, a total of 151 items belonging to the Lakota people will be returned to tribal leaders and descendants of Wounded Knee in a Nov. 5 ceremony in Barre, Mass.

One hundred and ten of the artifacts were identified as belonging specifically to the Oglala Lakota, and 41 were deemed “unaffiliated” but with a clear connection to the Lakota people based on certain colors and patterns used in the beadwork, a descendant said. All items will be returned to members of the Wounded Knee Survivors Association, who will then decide what to do with them.

Wendell Yellow Bull of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation – a descendant of Joseph Horn Cloud, who was just 16 when he witnessed the Wounded Knee Massacre – said there would be a mass meeting when he returned artifacts.

“Mostly, these are items from the site of the massacre,” he said. “So a lot of preparations and ceremonies have to take place for us to move forward. So at that time we will bring them back and house them at Oglala Lakota College for a short time. And then from there we will discuss.

Additionally, Yellow Bull added that the survivors’ association will bring the items on their annual seven-day horseback ride that commemorates the Wounded Knee Massacre each December. The runners will take the artifacts back to the site where the massacre took place to honor them with a ceremony and prayer, then return them to safekeeping at the college.

Kevin Killer, chairman of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, confirmed at the press conference that he will also be traveling to Massachusetts for the transfer. He said the tribe would be there to ensure the transfer goes smoothly.

“The most important thing is to make sure it gets back to the right hands,” Killer said. “As a tribe, we will make sure this process happens.”

Although Melius has not yet signed the official documents guaranteeing the transfer of the artifacts, she said “it will be signed shortly”.

After the Nov. 5 repatriation, the Barre Museum will still have 112 Native American artifacts in its collection, Melius said. The museum is currently in consultation with other tribal nations to affiliate and return these items.

“It’s a good step in the right direction,” Killer said Monday. “But I’m sure there are more steps to follow, especially the NAGPRA process.”

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About the Author

Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeE-mail: This email address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Personal editor

Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter who covers Indian health, environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the publication’s senior reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. His bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze is based in New York.


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