Today was one of the rare days I could spend the majority of the day researching a repatriation claim. This claim is for some sacred items at a museum in southern Michigan. Putting together claims for items is much more difficult than those for remains. Disputing the right of possession for remains is pretty clear cut, nobody has a right to them, but an item, that is a different story. Museums have a long history of buying items, or having items donated to them. The receipts or paperwork showing this is pretty compelling evidence, that a museum “owns” something, in western standards. But there are other standards which apply, those of tribal law and customs. Some things simply can’t be sold or alienated from the tribe. These items are what we pursue.
These items vary from tribe to tribe, not all things are universal, but some items are used by many tribes, such as eagle feathers, pipes and drums, but these items may be used in different ways. The best way to determine if an item is sacred is to consult the tribe that item belongs to.