Massachusetts museum returns sacred artifacts to Sioux tribes

BARRE, Mass. (AP) — About 150 artifacts considered sacred by the Lakota Sioux peoples are being returned to them after being stored in a small Massachusetts museum for more than a century.

Members of the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes traveled from South Dakota to take custody of weapons, pipes, moccasins and clothing, including several items believed to have a direct connection to the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 in South Dakota.

They had been held by the Founders Museum in Barre, Massachusetts, about 74 miles west of Boston. A public ceremony was held Saturday inside the gymnasium of a nearby elementary school that included prayers from Lakota representatives. The artifacts will be officially handed over in a private ceremony.

“Ever since that Wounded Knee massacre happened, genocides have been instilled in our blood,” said Surrounded Bear, 20, who traveled to Barre from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, according to the Boston Globe. . “And for us, bringing these artifacts back is a step towards healing. It is a step in the right direction. »

The ceremony marked the culmination of decades-long repatriation efforts.

“It’s always been important to me to return them,” said Ann Meilus, chair of the Founders Museum board of trustees. “I think the museum will be remembered for being on the right side of history for the return of these items.”

The returned items represent only a tiny fraction of the estimated 870,000 Native American artifacts — including nearly 110,000 human remains — in the possession of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, museums and even the federal government. They are supposed to be returned to the tribes under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.

Museum officials said that as a private institution that does not receive federal funding, the institution is not subject to NAGPRA, but the return of items from its collection belonging to indigenous tribes is the good thing to do.

Over 200 men, women, children and elderly people were killed in the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Congress issued a formal apology to the Sioux Nation a century later for one of the country’s worst Native American massacres.

The Barre Museum acquired its Aboriginal collection from Frank Root, a traveling shoe salesman who collected the items on his travels during the 19th century, and once staged a road show that rivaled the extravagances of PT Barnum, according to the museum officials.

Wendell Yellow Bull, a descendant of Wounded Knee victim Joseph Horn Cloud, said the items would be stored at Oglala Lakota College until tribal leaders decide what to do with them.

The items returned to the Sioux people have all been authenticated by multiple experts, including tribal experts. The museum also has other native artifacts that are not believed to have originated with the Sioux.

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