There are so many different parts to the repatriation process. Identifying what museums have item/remains, contacting and consulting them, research for a claim, writing a claim, more consultation, then the eventual acceptance or denial of the claim. This is where things can get really stressed between a museum and tribe. If the museum honors a repatriation claim, great! we get our federal register notice in order, wait, then arrange a pick up. It’s always nice to meet the people face to face with whom I work with on a repatriation. Many times these claims take over a year before I can physically pick up what belongs to my tribe. I am arranging travel now to pick up items and remains from around the Great Lakes. Sacred items in Wisconsin and Illinois, remains in southern Michigan, New York and New Jersey. All these items/remains originate from Little Traverse. It’s challenging and fun trying to figure out how to get these. The actual pick up is a process itself. This takes lots of coordination and effort, with repatriation grants being utilized as much as possible. We have secured a few of these grants in the past, and they were extremely helpful in our endeavours. We had sacred items as far west as St. Louis and remains in Nebraska, which we used a NAGRPA repatriation grant to get. How these items/remains from Michigan made it so far from home is a weird, morbid tale of peoples’ fascination and disrespect of Indian people.
Now, when a museum does not honor a claim, what then? It’s really difficult to try and explain how something is sacred without divulging too much information about the ceremonial aspect of the item. Then there is the scenario how the tribe’s claim may not meet the museum’s definition of sacred. Hopefully more consultation would lead to a resolve of this dilemma. So many times, a tribe’s oral history and explanation of what is sacred is not taken into account or deemed a credible line of evidence. This blatant omission of facts on behalf of the museum creates an endless sense of frustration for a tribe.
We at LTBB have been fortunate enough to work with some great people in the museum community, who are willing to listen and do what is necessary to do the right thing. But on the other hand, we have run into museums who have been less then willing to work with us. For now, we have been concentrating on working with the museums who want to work with us, getting results, gaining experience and building momentum.