Massachusetts Museum Returns Sacred Artifacts to Sioux Tribes

BARRE, Mass. (AP) — About 150 artifacts considered sacred by the Lakota Sioux people are being returned to them after more than a century in a small Massachusetts museum.

Members of the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River tribes traveled from South Dakota to retrieve guns, pipes, moccasins, and clothing, including several items directly related to the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota in 1890.

They were preserved by the Founders Museum in Barre, Massachusetts, 74 miles west of Boston. On Saturday, a public ceremony was held inside the auditorium of a nearby elementary school that included prayers from Lakota representatives. The artifacts will be officially handed over in a private ceremony.

According to The Boston Globe, “Genocide has been in our blood ever since the Wounded Knee massacre happened,” said the 20-year-old bear, who traveled to Barre from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. “And for us to get these artifacts back, that’s a step toward healing. It’s a step in the right direction.”

It was a ceremony to end the efforts to return to the homeland, which had been going on for decades.

“It’s always been important to me to give them back,” said Ann Meilus, president of the Founders Museum Board. “I think the museum would be on the right side of history to return this item.”

The returned items are just a tiny fraction of the estimated 870,000 Native American artifacts — including about 110,000 human remains — held by colleges, museums and even the nation’s influential federal government. They must be returned to the tribes under the Native American Graves Preservation and Restitution Act of 1990.

Museum officials said that as a private institution that does not receive federal funding, the institution is not subject to NAGPRA, but returning items in its collection that belong to Native tribes is the right thing to do.

More than 200 men, women, children and the elderly were killed in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A century after Congress issued a formal apology to the Sioux Nation for one of the nation’s worst massacres of Native Americans.

According to museum officials, the Barre museum acquired its Native American collection from Frank Root, a traveling shoe salesman who collected items on his travels throughout the 19th century and once had a road show that rivaled PT Barnum’s extravaganzas.

Wendell Yellow Bull, a descendant of Wounded Knee victim Joseph Horn Cloud, said the items will be stored at Oglala Lakota College until tribal leaders decide what to do with them.

The items being returned to the Sioux people have all been authenticated by multiple experts, including tribal experts. The museum also has other indigenous artifacts that are not believed to be of Sioux origin.

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