In 1890, U.S. soldiers stripped an encampment of Lakota people of their weapons and then began killing them. By the end of what is known as the Wounded Knee Massacre, 300 Lakota, including many women and children, had been murdered. Lakota artifacts looted during the massacre were eventually sold off to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. Now, descendants of the survivors from the massacre are asking the museum to repatriate these items, reported the Art Newspaper.
The museum had bought four items in 1892: a pair of moccasins, a child’s bonnet, a necklace made a deer hoof pieces taken from a Lakota warrior, a Ghost dance shirt, and a protective talisman. The last item was repatriated in 1998 following a years long negotiation between the museum and the late Lakota activist Marcella LeBeau (Cheyenne River Sioux).
LaBeau had been in the process of requesting the remaining three items in the months leading up to her death last November. She was a member of the Wounded Knee Survivors Association, which is made up of Lakota tribal members who are descendants of those who survived the massacre. When the Ghost Dance shirt was returned, it didn’t go to the Survivors’ Association.
“It went to a tribal council, then a museum,” Charles New Holy, acting chief of the Survivors’ Association, told the Art Newspaper. “The whole process overlooked us. Those items belong to our grandfathers and grandmothers—their spirit is still connected to them—but people see prestige and money in them. These are spiritual items that should not be displayed anywhere.”
This time around, the association is hoping that the remaining items will be directly reappropriated to them. However, it likely won’t be easy. The U.S. Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires that museums which receive federal funding must repatriate certain Native American items to the tribes from which the hail.
When it comes to repatriation of Native American items held in museums outside of the U.S., there are no legal obligations. Glasgow’s city council has reinstated a group to look into several repatriation requests across the city’s museums, including this case and a request for Benin Bronzes to be returned to Nigeria.
A representative for the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum did not respond to a request for comment.