Mon, Jun 11, 2018 - Page 8 News List

US tribe displays artifacts loaned from the British Museum

Tribal artifacts hidden away in the archives of the London-based museum for nearly 120 years are being returned to an Oregon tribe

By Gillian Flaccus  /  AP, GRAND RONDE, OREGON

Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde council member Kathleen George, left, tribal chairwoman Cheryle Kennedy, center, and tribal council administrative assistant Shannon Simi last month admire objects in Grand Ronde, Oregon, that were collected in the 1870s by the Robert Summers, an Episcopal minister.

Photo: AP

Tribal artifacts that have been hidden away in the archives of the British Museum in London for nearly 120 years are being returned to a Native American tribe for an exhibit at its own museum — a facility the tribe expanded and upgraded in part to reclaim these pieces central to its complicated heritage.

The 16 objects will go on display Tuesday on a small Oregon reservation after a decades-long campaign by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde to bring them back from Europe.

The intricate bowls, woven baskets and other pieces were collected by the Robert Summers, an Episcopal minister who bought them from destitute tribal members in the 1870s and sold them to a colleague. The colleague later gifted the objects to the British institution.

The “Rise of the Collectors” exhibit, on display at the Chachalu Tribal Museum & Cultural Center in Grand Ronde, also includes basketry collected by Andrew Kershaw, who worked on the reservation in the 1890s as a doctor and agent for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Grand Ronde is about 110km southwest of Portland.

Together, the two collections are part of a larger plan by the Grand Ronde to reclaim and examine its history for future generations — a mission that echoes efforts by other tribes around the US. Two years ago, a Parisian auction house withdrew a ceremonial shield from an auction after the Acoma Pueblo, a tribe in rural New Mexico, moved to halt its sale. And tribes from Alaska to Connecticut have used a US law passed in 1990 to reclaim Native American remains and sacred or funerary objects.


The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde wanted the objects back permanently but worked out an initial yearlong loan because a full return of items from the British Museum requires parliamentary action, said David Harrelson, manager of the tribe’s cultural resources department.

The tribe never made a formal request to have the objects repatriated and instead chose to work with the European institution. The temporary exhibit is regarded as a first step to more collaboration between the Grand Ronde and the British Museum.

“It’s a real privilege to be a part of this, where this material heritage is coming back to this community,” said Amber Lincoln, curator of the Americas section of the British Museum. She and a colleague traveled to Oregon with the objects.

“This is what we work for, to bring people together ... so that we all learn.”

In Oregon, the US government in 1856 forced members of nearly 30 tribes and bands onto a new reservation to clear out land for white settlement. The mass relocation created a jumble of peoples who brought with them traditions and languages from what is now Northern California to southern Washington, a 563km span.

The government terminated treaties with those tribes about a century later and restored them in 1983, marking an end to a turbulent period that remains a fresh wound for many here. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde now has 5,100 members.


Around the same time, tribal members still in Oregon first learned of the Summers collection and mounted a campaign to repatriate the objects.

The federal law passed to help tribes reclaim artifacts from American museums didn’t apply to overseas institutions, so tribal representatives traveled to London, hosted British Museum officials in Oregon and pursued talks over a period of years. The museum was welcoming, but the tribe lacked a secure space to keep the objects.

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