Remains and artifacts stolen from several Native American tribes were returned Saturday after being held at a small Massachusetts museum for more than a century. According to the Associated Press, about 150 sacred artifacts, including moccasins, weapons, arrows, and clothing, were returned to representatives of the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes.
The artifacts were stolen from a gravesite at Wounded Knee in the early 19th century by a traveling shoe salesman. According to USA TODAY, more than 200 Native Americans were said to be killed in 1890 and buried at that site, including men, women, children, and elderly people. A century later, Congress issued an apology to the Great Sioux Nation, calling it one of America’s worst massacres of Native Americans.
A ceremony took place to commemorate the return of remains and artifacts on Saturday, with more than 100 people from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in attendance.
“Ever since that Wounded Knee massacre happened, genocides have been instilled in our blood,” said Surrounded Bear. According to The Boston Globe, Bear traveled to Barre for the ceremony from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. “And for us to bring back these artifacts, that’s a step towards healing. That’s a step in the right direction.”
The items will be returned at a private ceremony, but Saturday’s ceremony marked the success of repatriation efforts that have continued for decades.
But while the return of these items is to be celebrated, they only represent a small fraction of stolen Indigenous artifacts. According to the Associated Press, approximately 870,000 Native American artifacts, including the remains of some 110,000 Indigenous people, are allegedly in the possession of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, museums, and even the federal government.
While they were supposed to be returned to Native tribes under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, many were not, since museum officials claimed the law did not apply to them. This is because some museums are considered private institutions and do not receive federal funding. As a result, they claimed they were not required to follow the NAGPRA, even though returning the items in their possession is the right thing to do.
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The Founders Museum is also a private institution, and while it is not subject to NAGPRA, museum officials noted that they wanted to do the right thing.
“It was always important to me to give them back,” said Ann Meilus, president of the board at the Founders Museum. “I think the museum will be remembered for being on the right side of history for returning these items.”