Re: Rights and Access

Anj Petto (ajpetto@MACC.WISC.EDU)
Thu, 12 May 1994 09:17:32 -0600

Claire writes:
>Recently a policy maker (unknown to me) at The Field Museum in Chicago
>decided that access to its Native American, or , if you prefer, Indian,
>collections would be denied to all who were not members of the tribe/group in
>question without written permission from the appropriate tribal council.

Although her other examples do take the situation to the extreme, the Field
Museum's decision stems from some considerations that all we
anthropologists ought to be able to accept. In the main, Native
Americans/American Indians/First Nations/First Peoples/etc. are responsible
for the execution of the laws and regulations regarding repatriation of
artifacts held in museums and other collections around the country. In
many cases, access to these items would be restricted even to many
individuals *within* a given tribe; and it is no guarantee that someone
from another tribe would know these distinctions.

When we discussed this with a curator of the Oneida Museum here in
Wisconsin, she made this point quite clearly. Many of the artifacts and
burials require special ceremonial preparation and handling only by
"qualified" individuals of that tribe. She was very adamant that a
Cherokee healer would not substitute for an Oneida spirit talker, etc.

The problem is that, in the abstract, we anthropologists can agree with
this stance, but in the real world practice of our profession, we face a
loss of control over and access to "collections" and "data" that represent
the real, spiritual, and cultural lives of these people. In a way, to
accept such decisions from museums and tribal councils is to admit to
ourselves that we have been a part of the exploitation of these peoples by
European colonialism and expansionism, at least to the extent that we have
benefitted professionally from the spoils of this exploitation -- i.e.
extensive museum collections. We like to think of ourselves as the "good
guys" vis-a-vis oppression and other cultures, however my experience at a
recent conference of Indian educators in Wisconsin illustrated clearly that
these tribes do not share our image of ourselves. In fact, I was
ultimately accepted *despite* my being an anthropologist because of my
position and role as an educator and because my wife (bless her) is a very
active educator and *not* an anthropologist (talk about ascribed status).

The Oneida curator went further. Not only are they concerned about
burials, grave goods, material culture, etc., by they are also interested
in recovering intellectual property -- tales, legends, recordings,
photographs, film/video whenever possible.

Field Museum's policy seems to be a reasonable (temporary) solution to the
problem under NAGPRA (Native America Graves Protection and Repatriation
Act) during the 5 years that the act requires colletions to establish the
identity of good in their collections and to try to come up with a plan to
repatriate them. Not too worry, however. NAGPRA stipulates that 1) the
goods must be reclaimed ONLY by the tribe from which they were originally
taken (many of the items in these collections are so poorly identified ir
the tribes so long gone that their continued control by museums is almost
assured); 2) each item must be identified and inventoried by a tribal
representative (which requires time and resources -- travel, $$,
expertise); and 3) the law sets deadlines for collectors to submit
summaries of their collections to the tribes (3 years) and full inventories
(5 years), but does not set a time line for the actual repatriation.

I have available a summary both of NAGPRA (PL 101-601) and the Oneida
Nation's response to it that I can make available to anyone interested.
It's a little long to post to email, but I'll post it.
You may also write to Denise J. Vigue (sorry I can't get the characters of
her Oneida name onto the net), Director, Oneida Nation Museum/Cultural
Center, PO Box 365, Oneida WI 54155-0365.

Andrew J. Petto, PhD
Associate Director
Center for Biology Education
660 WARF
University of Wisconsin

Voice: 608.263-0478
Fax: 608.262-0014