A Reflection on Repatriation (4)

Very often, the dilemma of repatriation is very complicated with no clear correct solution. Items are often in a museum in one country and were found by an archaeologist of another country and really belong to the people of another country or region. With such complicated history, and with the items usually passed along “legally”, items sometimes never return home because their legal claim to it does not surpass the legal claim other countries have to it. Another issue that often also gets wrapped up in this is that some museums with large collections and internationally recognized names, such as the British Museum in London, could help an art piece reach a much larger audience than in a smaller museum in the original country of the item. However, as it seems many people holding Tohono O’odham art nowadays have recognized, the Tohono O’odham absolutely want their art back regardless of any possible arguments otherwise.

With many acts that we learned about from Peter at the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center, the United States has helped facilitate the reclamation of art pieces that originally belonged to Native American tribes, as long as they chose to go through the process. While some tribes choose not to request for the return of some items, the Tohono O’odham are very actively trying to bring the objects of their history home. As we were told by a speaker at the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center, the Tohono O’odham are not concerned with allowing their items to reach larger audiences by leaving them in the hands of, for example, Princeton University. They see the items of their past as cultural treasure that belongs and should be viewed by their people; it is not meant for non-Tohono O’odham. Fascinated by the collection that they have already managed to amass in their short 11 years of existence, I look forward to hearing about and possibly returning to see one day the many items that  the Tohono O’odham get returned to them from all over the country back. 

We were not supposed to take photos inside the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center, so please enjoy this photo of the gate leading to the parking lot instead.


One Reply to “A Reflection on Repatriation (4)”

  1. I wonder how repatriation would work for an Indian nation that claims land on 2 countries yet is recognized in one and not the other. Mexican law doesn’t seem to recognize the tohono as a national patrimony and therefore can nationalize all findings on the Mexican side of the border. it is interesting to note that this is not the case for all indigenous peoples in Mexico. The Mexica headress of Montezuma II, the first crown of Mexico, is actually in Austria. The Mexican government has been trying to get it repatriated for the past half century, but unsuccessfully.

    Interestingly, the government would not give it back to the Mexica people, or even to the defendants of Montezuma II, but rather it plans to nationalize it and display it in the National Museum Of Anthropology and History (INAH) in Mexico City.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© Joseph Guse. All rights reserved.