Virginia Museum Returns Tlingit Frontlet

In 2002 the Logan Museum returned a Tlingit bear headdress collected by Axel Rasmussen in Alaska between 1926 and 1936. The source is the same as the Virginia Museum of Art's Tlingit frontlet. The question in both cases is the same and that is did it really qualify under the cultural patrimony definitions of the Native American Grave Repatriation and Protection Act (NAGPRA)? " Items can also be returned if they are objects of cultural patrimony, such as the headdress, which means it belongs to the entire tribe, not an individual, and therefore cannot be sold or transferred from one person to another." Did it really belong to the entire tribe or did the Tlingits say that in order to meet NAGPRA's criterion for repatriation? Considering the collections of Tlingit material alone, this question is huge. The American Museum of Natural History has about 5200 objects collected by Emmons (The Tlingit Indians, Emmons/Laguna1991, p. XIX). The Burke Museum has a Tlingit frontlet owned by Chief Shakes. I can see no difference in the potential  "clan status" of this object when compared with the frontlet repatriated by Virginia. So how did Emmons who was protective of the Tlingit and was widely respected, collect objects so easily? It appears to some degree that the times were different. Emmons and Laguna noted that  missionary work was "flourishing" and many indians became Christian abandoning "heathen" practices. Additionally, successors to the deceased chiefs were required to confront the chief and all that he possessed to be gaged worthy of succession. It was believed that the trappings of the chief's power also possessed spirits that could if not treated properly cause death. Emmons reports that a white man was impervious to such spirits and could remove objects easily diminishing the power of the deceased. If this is to be believed, it made it easy to collect important objects if you had the sort of relationship Emmons had with the Tlingit.. So I pose the question what are the property rights of a legitimate purchaser? Clearly the Tlingit had to be aware of 5200 objects disappearing over a twenty year period. I am neither a Northwest Coast scholar or a lawyer with a specialty in cases like these. So now over a hundred years later with significant outside cultural influences having impacted the Tlingit since the turn of the century can we legitimately strip the purchaser and subsequent owners of their property rights in the name of a moral do over. Laguna estimated that 11,000 objects collected during this period are now in museums around the world. At the very least I think we need more information and justification than what we have in the background material provided below. NAGPRA is not perfect by any means. It is especially difficult for small museums that have limited staff to complete the required inventories and to contact the appropriate native american groups. That said I certainly recognize that it is difficult also for institutions to lose objects that in many cases have been acquired by limited acquisition funds.  It is not politically correct to sympathize with the institutions, but quite frankly there are two sides to this story which should be recognized and reflected in ongoing modifications to this legislation.


 RICHMOND, VA Richmond Times Dispatch - VMFA returns Native American headdress
By Holly Prestidge Published: March 10, 2011
"In a first for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, an item has been returned to an Alaskan Native American tribe. A Kingfisher Fort Headdress acquired by the museum in 1955 was returned to the Lúkaax.ádi clan of Alaska's Tlingit tribe last week in a ceremony at the National Museum of the American Indian's Cultural Resource Center in Suitland, Md. The headdress, which dates to the
late 19th century and early 20th century, was adorned with wood, swan down, walrus whiskers and flicker feathers. It was repatriated to the tribe in accordance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. This was the first time the museum has returned an item under that law. The law gives museums and federal agencies a way to return Native American items such as human remains and funerary and sacred objects to descendents and affiliated Indian tribes and Native American organizations. Items can also be returned if they are objects of cultural patrimony, such as the headdress, which means it belongs to the entire tribe, not an individual, and therefore cannot be sold or transferred from one person to another.
The museum acquired the headdress and 24 other items of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska from the Portland Art Museum in Oregon.
A claim was issued for the headdress, and the VMFA Board of Trustees voted in May 2010 to return it. Lee Anne Chesterfield, assistant curator of ancient American art for the museum, said Wednesday that possibly one or two other items could fall into the category of cultural patrimony, though the museum hasn't received any other claims. She said working to return the headdress has "been a great learning experience for the museum," particularly since the federal law can be difficult to navigate.
"It's been such a great experience for everyone," Chesterfield added, "and we've made some new friends."

"Notice is hereby given in accordance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), 43 CFR 10.10 (a)(3), of the intent to repatriate a cultural item in the possession of the Logan Museum of Anthropology that meets the definition of ``sacred object'' and ``object of cultural patrimony'' under Section 2 of the Act.
This notice is published as part of the National Park Service's administrative responsibilities under NAGPRA, 43 CFR 10.2 (c). The determinations within this notice are the sole responsibility of the museum, institution, or Federal agency that has control of these cultural items. The National Park Service is not responsible for the determinations within this notice.
The cultural item is a bear headdress (Xoots Shakee.at). It is comprised of an ermine fur crown decorated around the edge with sea lion whiskers and red and yellow shafted flicker feathers. The carved wooden frontlet represents a bear whose breast and abdomen are decorated with the head of an eagle and the head and front legs of a frog. The carving is painted red, black, blue, and green and is inlaid with abalone shell along the top and along each side of the bear crest. The interior frame of the headdress is constructed of wood and whalebone and lined with cotton cloth.
Accession and catalogue records of the Logan Museum of Anthropology and the Portland Art Museum indicate that the bear headdress was collected by Axel Rasmussen in Alaska between 1926 and 1936. Mr. Rasmussen went to Alaska in the late 1920s as superintendent of schools at Wrangell. In 1937, he left Wrangell for a similar position in Skagway, where he stayed until his death in 1945. The headdress was probably collected while he was in Wrangell, as the date marked on the collector's catalogue card predates his tenure in Skagway. In 1948, his art collection was donated to the Portland Art Museum, which sold the headdress to the St. Paul Gallery in St. Paul, MN, in 1959. Rev. Glen Ridenour purchased the headdress from the St. Paul Gallery at an unknown date and sold it to the Logan Museum of Anthropology in 1964.
Consultations with and documentation provided by representatives of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes acting on behalf of the Teikweidi Clan of the Tlingit confirm the Tlingit identity of this cultural item, and the Teikweidi Clan of the Tlingit as the rightful custodians of this item. Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes representatives have provided evidence that the headdress is needed for religious ceremonies by the clan, and that the headdress has ongoing historical, traditional, and cultural importance to the Tlingit people, and to the Teikweidi Clan in particular, and that under the Tlingit system of communal property ownership, this cultural item could not have been alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any individual.
Based on the abovementioned information, officials of the Logan Museum of Anthropology have determined that, pursuant to 43 CFR 10.2 (d)(3), this cultural item is a ceremonial object needed by traditional Native American religious leaders for the practice of traditional Native American religions by their presentday adherents. Officials of the Logan Museum of Anthropology also have determined that, pursuant to 43 CFR 10.2 (d)(4), this cultural item has ongoing historical, traditional, and cultural importance to the clan itself and is of such central importance that it could not have been alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any individual. Lastly, officials of the Logan Museum of Anthropology have determined that, pursuant to 43 CFR 10.2(e), there is a relationship of shared group identity that can be reasonably traced between this sacred object/object of cultural patrimony and the Teikweidi Clan of the Tlingit tribe, whose interests are represented here by the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes.
This notice has been sent to officials of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes. Representatives of any other Indian tribe that believes itself to be culturally affiliated with this object should contact William Green, Director, Logan Museum of Anthropology, Beloit College, 700 College St., Beloit, WI 53511, telephone (608) 363 2119 before August 12, 2002. Repatriation of this sacred object/object of cultural patrimony to the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes may begin after that date if no additional claimants come forward."

Dated: June 19, 2002
Robert Stearns,
Manager, National NAGPRA Program.
[FR Doc. 0217414 Filed 71002; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 431070S