Colgate University repatriates over 1,500 grave goods and apologizes to Oneida Indian Nation for acquisition of cultural artifacts


Colgate University President Casey and Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter sign repatriation

“For decades, too many museums and other educational and cultural institutions have followed indefensible practices regarding the ancestral remains and cultural artifacts of Native Americans.” – Ray Halbritter, Representative of the Oneida Indian Nation

On Wednesday, November 9, a ceremony was held at Colgate University to repatriate more than 1,500 grave goods and cultural artifacts to the Oneida Indian Nation from the collections of the university’s Longyear Museum of Anthropology. During the ceremony, President Brian Casey issued a formal apology for past acquisitions of these items and affirmed the university’s commitment to continue the important work of repatriating cultural artifacts from Indigenous peoples in the future. . This repatriation continues the university’s longstanding partnership with the Oneida Indian Nation and the respectful return of culturally significant objects to the Oneida people.

Wednesday’s repatriation was one of the largest transfers of cultural artifacts in New York state history and included a variety of items that were interred with Oneida ancestors during the burial.

Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter, Colgate University President Brian Casey, and University of Houston historian and Cullen Professor Emeritus James Kirby Martin shared remarks during the ceremony.

“For decades, too many museums and other educational and cultural institutions have followed indefensible practices regarding ancestral remains and cultural artifacts of Native Americans,” said Halbritter, representative of the Oneida Indian Nation. “These practices have been allowed to continue under the belief that the preservation of history is of the utmost importance without questioning the means to do so. They assume it is possible while separating history from people it belongs to, assuming we tell our stories with stolen artifacts and unknown voices. Indigenous burial and ceremonial objects should never be owned by museums in this way. Our commitment to continuing this conversation is one of many values that the Oneida Indian Nation shares with Colgate University. We are grateful for these efforts, but also grateful for the understanding of the university and the museum that they are what is needed in a society that meaningfully recognizes the sovereignty and dignity of indigenous peoples.”

“Many of the sacred properties repatriated today came into the possession of the university through a collection acquired in 1959 – a collection that should never have been acquired,” said President Casey. “For this, on behalf of this university, I humbly apologize. I hope today’s repatriation brings Colgate closer to members of the Oneida Indian Nation, both as neighbors and as partners, as we continue this important work to ensure that all legitimate assets of the nation are properly and respectfully returned.

The ceremony is the latest in a series of repatriations that began in 1995 with the transfer of the remains of seven Oneida ancestors and eight associated grave goods. The transfer of the remains of two ancestors and two cultural artifacts followed in 2002 as well as the return of a sacred mask in 2019. More recently in 2020, an extensive inventory of the museum’s collections resulted in the repatriation of the remains of at least six other Oneida Ancestors.

More repatriations are expected in the future as Colgate University and the Oneida Indian Nation continue to partner to identify ancestral remains and sacred and ceremonial objects in the collections of the Longyear Museum of Anthropology.

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