Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America's Culture
by Chip Colwell
University of Chicago Press, 2017
Cloth: 978-0-226-29899-3 | Paper: 978-0-226-68444-4 | Electronic: 978-0-226-29904-4
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.001.0001


University of Chicago Press (cloth, paper, ebook)


Who owns the past and the objects that physically connect us to history? And who has the right to decide this ownership, particularly when the objects are sacred or, in the case of skeletal remains, human? Is it the museums that care for the objects or the communities whose ancestors made them? These questions are at the heart of Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits, an unflinching insider account by a leading curator who has spent years learning how to balance these controversial considerations.

Five decades ago, Native American leaders launched a crusade to force museums to return their sacred objects and allow them to rebury their kin. Today, hundreds of tribes use the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to help them recover their looted heritage from museums across the country. As senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Chip Colwell has navigated firsthand the questions of how to weigh the religious freedom of Native Americans against the academic freedom of scientists and whether the emptying of museum shelves elevates human rights or destroys a common heritage. This book offers his personal account of the process of repatriation, following the trail of four objects as they were created, collected, and ultimately returned to their sources: a sculpture that is a living god, the scalp of a massacre victim, a ceremonial blanket, and a skeleton from a tribe considered by some to be extinct. These specific stories reveal a dramatic process that involves not merely obeying the law, but negotiating the blurry lines between identity and morality, spirituality and politics.

Things, like people, have biographies. Repatriation, Colwell argues, is a difficult but vitally important way for museums and tribes to acknowledge that fact—and heal the wounds of the past while creating a respectful approach to caring for these rich artifacts of history.


Chip Colwell is the senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. His work has been highlighted in such venues as the New York TimesDenver PostHuffington Post, and C-SPAN, and his books include Living Histories: Native Americans and Southwestern Archaeology and Inheriting the Past: The Making of Arthur C. Parker and Indigenous Archaeology.


 “In this beautifully written meditation on the vexed relationship between museums and Native American communities, Colwell reveals as never before the human dimensions of our recent struggles over repatriation. Important, necessary reading for all those who grapple with the essential question of how best to respect and honor the past.”
— Karl Jacoby, author of Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and the Violence of History

“Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits uses the story of one museum to show how Native American symbols of identity and ceremony and ancestral bones were initially appropriated as objects of cultural patrimony, but recently have become part of a complicated struggle of ownership. As Colwell profoundly shows, the emotional price paid by everyone involved—Native American, archaeologist, and museum curator—is never small.”
— Larry J. Zimmerman, author of The Sacred Wisdom of the Native Americans

 “Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits breaks new ground. Colwell’s dual roles of museum curator and human rights advocate offers a narrative of personal growth and professional practice that couples a humanist’s sensitivities with a historian’s insistence on primary documentary sources. The resulting breath of fresh air contributes mightily to still-controversial conversations about American reburial and repatriation. The message sounds loud and clear: Twenty-first century museums can indeed stand tall in addressing their own complex histories. Why do some still feel obliged to cover up past performance, to lock out qualified researchers from their archives and to sugar-coat their past in the hopes that nobody will notice?”
— David H. Thomas, author of Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity

“Colwell, senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, explores the fraught project of repatriating Native American sacred objects in this moving and thoughtful work. . . . Colwell’s book raises provocative questions about who owns the past, and is surely an important work for curators—or anyone—interested in America’s treatment of its cultural legacy.”
— Publishers Weekly

“A careful and intelligent chronicle of the battle over Indian artifacts and the study of Indian culture.”
— Wall Street Journal

"Colwell ably and sensitively tells the often conflict-ridden story of how and why museums in the US relinquished their hold over this material. . . . Colwell finds himself squarely in the middle of each quandary: a practising anthropologist who works alongside Native Americans every day and is sensitive to their cultural dynamics. Colwell’s account favours the Native American perspective--a sensible approach for a book aimed at scientifically literate readers who may lean the other way. Readers will come away with a deeper appreciation of Native American cultural imperatives and the complexity of the situation."
— New Scientist

"Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits is a sobering peek into the controversy that surrounds tribal artifacts and human remains found in museums throughout the United States. His eloquent narration details several unique cases of repatriation. . . . Colwell has a unique perspective. He provides the reader with a firsthand look at the repatriation process, sympathetically including tribal perspectives--something that few museum directors have sought to do when writing on this subject in the past."
— Science

"A lightly written, insider's account of the battle over human remains and objects in museums. . . . As this book shows, the fight to reclaim Native America’s culture has been waged, in significant parts, by professionals such as Colwell. His is indeed an insider’s account--just not from the sidelines. He too has been on the battlefield."

— Spectator

"This powerful book will be of particular importance to those working in museum and tribal settings, but is highly appropriate for anyone interested in cultural heritage and the legal efforts to manage claims for Native patrimony. Essential."
— Choice

"Without ever descending into sensationalistic tones, the author exposes delicate facts about massacres, beliefs, desecrations, and illegal activities, deploying evidence with a measured distance that is difficult to argue against. Native American voices are given plenty of space to support their cases. They emerge as strong and determined and this is what the author wants us to perceive as a way to sensitise the public to the deep ethical implications that these, like many other cases, present us with. . . [Colwell] explicitly make[s] the theme of objects’ agency and personhood the core of [his] most poignant arguments about repatriation, ethics, and conservation."
— Transmotion


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0001
[repatriation;NAGPRA;museum collections;skeletons;Parthenon Marbles;Machu Picchu;momokai]
This chapter introduces the controversies surrounding repatriation—the return of sacred objects and human remains from museums to descendant communities. The author, Chip Colwell, explores his own role in repatriation, how he developed a keen sense of the seemingly irreconcilable differences between archaeologists and Native Americans, and how he must navigate these differences today as a curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. In his position, Chip Colwell has seen how repatriation is transforming both museums and American Indian tribes, and offers an opportunity to examine key questions about the historical, social, and political dynamics of museums: Why do museums collect objects? Why stones and skulls? Why is it so offensive that some things are stored, studied, and exhibited in museums? What are the legal rights of museums? And the moral claims of tribes? How can a museum decide why it should return a human bone or sacred object to its homeland? What do we lose when artifacts go home again? What do we gain?

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0002
[Zuni Indians;War Gods;Ahayu:da;Stewart Culin;Brooklyn Museum]
This chapter examines the creation and theft of a sacred and communally owned object known as the War God. Chip Colwell visits a War God shrine on the Zuni Indian Reservation in New Mexico with a Zuni religious leader, Perry Tsadiasi. Made from pieces of wood cut about waist-high, the Ahayu:da are carved into abstract human form and serve to protect the Zuni people and keep the universe in balance. This visit leads to an investigation of the first thefts of the War Gods from their shrine homes. The most were taken by the anthropologist Stewart Culin, on behalf of the Brooklyn Museum (then called the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences), in the early 1900s. Culin saw himself as carrying the mantle of the famous anthropologist Frank H. Cushing. Zunis had strong prohibitions against buying and selling sacred objects, but the Zunis were suffering from a drought and desperately needed money for food. Some Zunis colluded with Culin to have them removed from their shrines and stolen away from the Zuni people. Some he purchased from local traders, such as Andrew Vander Wagen. A total of 13 War Gods ended up in the Brooklyn Museum’s collections.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0003
[Zuni;War Gods;Ahayu:da;Smithsonian;Frank Cushing;Matilda Coxe Stevenson]
This chapter explores the meaning of the War Gods (Ahayu:da), who are the Keepers of the Sky, to the Zuni Indians. Zuni religious leaders Perry Tsadiasi and Octavius Seowtewa tell Chip Colwell the War Gods’ history. During ancient migrations from the Grand Canyon to the Middle Place, their current home in New Mexico, the Zuni ancestors first gained the protection of the War Gods. Zunis believe Father-Sun and Mother-Water gave birth to twin beings whose hearts were changed to the “medicine of war” to safely guide the Zuni to their pueblo home. The war gods became the Zuni’s invincible guardians and created a society of warriors called the Bow Priesthood. The chapter then examines how more War Gods were taken. In 1879, anthropologists began studying Zuni, mostly notably beginning with a Bureau of Ethnology (Smithsonian Institution) expedition led by James Stevenson, and joined by his wife, Matilda Coxe Stevenson, a photographer named John K. Hillers, and Frank H. Cushing, then a brash twenty-two-year-old. These early anthropologists sought to collect everything they could, often with subterfuge and cunning. Zunis believe it is dangerous to take War Gods and blame Frank H. Cushing’s untimely death on his theft of War Gods.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0004
[Zuni;War Gods;Ahayu:da;Frances Crane;Mary Crane;Roy Coy]
This chapter introduces Mary Winslow Allen Crane and her husband, Francis Crane, who began collecting Native American artifacts in 1951. They opened the Southeast Museum of the North American Indian on their property in Marathon, Florida, in 1959. In 1968, due to a lack of visitors and poor health, the Cranes donated their entire 12,000-piece collection to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (then called the Denver Museum of Natural History). In their collection was three War Gods. In 1968, the Cranes were approached by Claire Morrill at the Taos Book Shop and offered three more. They purchased these War Gods on behalf of the Denver Museum. Morrill insisted that the War Gods were legally purchased but that the Zuni were sensitive about the collection of War Gods. Morrill only sold the War Gods on the condition that they not be publicly displayed for 10 years. The Cranes and the Denver Museum agreed. In another mysterious death: Frances Crane died just after he purchased the War Gods—the last pieces he ever collected.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0005
[Zuni;War Gods;Ahayu:da;Denver Art Museum;Thomas Maytham]
This chapter recounts the start of the Zuni Tribe’s efforts to repatriate War Gods from museums and collectors. In 1977, the maker of the younger brother Ahayu:da, a Zuni Bear Clan leader named Alonzo Hustito, and his son, Charles, learned of a War God held by the Denver Art Museum. In 1978, Zuni tribal and religious leaders launched a formal repatriation campaign. They worked with the tribe’s lawyers, as well as Richard Hart, a historian, and T. J. Ferguson, an archaeologist employed by the tribe’s heritage management program. Assisted by the Native American Rights Fund, they first focused their efforts on the War God in the Denver Art Museum. Meetings were held with the Richard Conn (curator of primitive art), Thomas Maytham (director), and three Zunis—Police Chief Gordon Peywa, Head Tribal Ranger Barton Martza, and Bow Priest Dexter Cellicion. In the meantime, the Zunis had their first successful repatriation: A War God being auction by Sotheby Parke-Bernet was voluntarily returned to the tribe by the collector in 1979. After many months of long and tangled negotiations, DAM returned the War Gods in its collections. Within several years museums returned more than a dozen War Gods to the tribe.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0006
[Zuni;War Gods;Ahayu:da;NAGPRA;Smithsonian;culture clash;Perry Tsadiasi]
This chapter addresses the fate of the returned War Gods (Ahayu:da) to Zuni. Into the late 1980s, many museums remained reluctant to return War Gods to Zuni. The Brooklyn Museum and others held out. In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act into law. Under the requirements of this law, essentially every museum in the United States was required to return the War Gods. In 1991, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science returned the six War Gods that had been under its care. Zuni relate that they do not feel happiness about their success, but only sorrow for the suffering the War Gods have gone through. All of the returned War Gods were placed in an open air, but secure shrine on the Zuni Reservation in New Mexico. Zunis believe that the War Gods must be allowed to ritually decay back into the earth as a gift to the spirits. This viewpoint exemplified the culture clash of the repatriation battle, in which museum professionals believe they are preserving culture when they permanently protect it from decay. Despite NAGPRA, museums still did not return numerous War Gods because they were lost, stolen, or destroyed.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0007
[Zuni;War Gods;Ahayu:da;Ethnologisches Museum;British Museum;Museum Volkenkunde]
The 1990 federal law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, only applies to federally funded museums and federal agencies in the United States. This chapter recounts a trip to the Netherlands, Germany, France, and England, Chip Colwell and the Zuni religious leader Octavius Seowtewa took to museums that still hold War Gods (Ahayu:da) in their collections. At each museum, Seowtewa asked for the return of the War Gods, explaining to museum administrators that the sculptures were stolen and are needed for the ongoing cultural practices of the Zuni people. Administrators at the Ethnologisches Museum, British Museum, and elsewhere do not offer Seowtewa much hope that the War Gods would be returned. Only at the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, in the Netherlands, do administrators suggest the possibility of return. At each museum, Seowtewa performs a ritual prayer to the Ahayu:da. He returns home empty handed. Colwell travels back to Zuni and reflects on the experience while trying to catch a glimpse of a Zuni ceremonial dance. He does not see it but is glad that, unlike anthropologists before him, he has left Zuni culture to the Zuni.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0008
[Sand Creek Massacre;Cheyenne;Arapaho;Black Kettle;John Chivington;Colorado]
This chapter begins at a graveyard in Concho, Oklahoma. Gordon Yellowman, a Southern Cheyenne leader, is with Chip Colwell, showing him where the first returned remains of the Sand Creek Massacre victims were buried. The Sand Creek Massacre unfolded on November 29, 1864. Nearly 700 hundred soldiers of of the U.S. Army under the command of Colonel John Chivington attacked a peaceful village of Cheyenne and Arapaho. The groundwork for the massacre had begun several decades earlier as American citizens increasingly pressed towards their western frontier. An 1851 treaty promised eastern Colorado and parts of Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas to the Cheyenne and Arapaho. But the gold rush of 1859 sent thousands of men into the Rocky Mountains and these Indian lands were soon trespassed and claimed. The causes of the massacre were many, but the fuse was lit by the Hungate family’s gruesome murder outside Denver, during a stock raid. Cheyenne and Arapaho were blamed. Peace talks sought by the Cheyenne and Arapaho were rejected by Colorado’s leaders. Chivington’s Third Volunteers instead sought blood, and massacred upwards of 200 Indians, mostly women and children, at Sand Creek. Fleeing the attack, the Cheyenne and Arapaho could not bury their dead.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0009
[Sand Creek Massacre;National Museum of the American Indian Act;Cheyenne]
This chapter recounts the origins of the United States first federal repatriation law, the National Museum of the American Indian Act of 1989. The first repatriation bill was introduced to the U.S. Congress by Senator John Melcher. He was convinced to take action after one of his constituents, William Tallbull, visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and learned of its collection of nearly 18,500 Native American skeletons. Native American activists relentlessly protested museum collections and archaeological practices throughout the early 1970s. The clash between anthropologists, archaeologists, and museum administrators and Native Americans was based on fundamentally different views about the value of human remains and sacred objects, and pitting religious freedom against the freedoms of American scientists. In response, most museums, like the Denver Museum of Natural History, tried to hide their activities and avoid direct conflict. The American Indian activist Suzan Shown Harjo was negotiating with the secretary of the Smithsonian, Robert McCormick Adams, when she learned that the Smithsonian held skulls of her Cheyenne relatives taken from the Sand Creek Massacre. This discovery prompted a breakthrough in the negotiations, and led to the agreed-upon language that would form the NMAI Act.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0010
[Sand Creek Massacre;National Museum of Natural History;Connie Yellowman]
This chapter details the first repatriation of human remains take from the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre site. These victims were returned from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to the Cheyenne and Arapaho, for burial in the tribal cemetery in Concho, Oklahoma. Told through an interview with Connie Hart Yellowman and archival sources, the chapter describes how the return became highly contentious and politicized. Eventually, the victims’ remains went to Oklahoma and were placed in a special burial in a powerful ceremony.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0011
[Sand Creek Massacre;William B. Jacobs;George Cuneo;Connie Buffalo]
Following the massacre of nearly 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek in 1864, the U.S. Army soldiers pillaged the Indian camp and mutilated the victims, taking body parts as trophies. These remains of the victims were first paraded through Denver and then kept by many of the solders. Some of these remains ended up in museums, such as History Colorado (formerly the Colorado Historical Society). One Arapaho scalp was taken by Corporal William B. Jacobs, who then seemingly sold it to George A. Cuneo, a collector who eventually moved to Denver. Upon Cuneo’s death, the scalp was purchased by Erich Kohlberg, who owned the oldest and most prominent Indian trading post in Denver. Kohlberg sold a large portion of Cuneo’s collection to Mary and Frances Crane. In 1968, the Cranes then donated their entire collection, including the scalp, to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (then the Denver Museum of Natural History). Several other scalps supposedly ended up at a hotel in Kremmling, Colorado. A story that people tell is that an Ojibwe woman named Connie Buffalo went to the hotel, successfully obtained them, and then buried them at the Sand Creek Massacre site.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0012
[Sand Creek Massacre;NAGPRA;Cheyenne;Arapaho;Gordon Yellowman]
This chapter begins recounting the final events that led the U.S. Congress to pass the contentious Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990. The final senate version of the bill was sponsored by senators John McCain and Daniel Inouye. The final house bill was introduced by Representative Morris Udall of Arizona. The law only passed when Native American and museum and archaeological leaders finally compromised. On November 16, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed NAGPRA into law. The chapter then turns to Gordon Yellowman, a Cheyenne leader, and tells the story of how he became involved in repatriation work. It was difficult for him and many other Native American tribal employees to implement the new law. It was often confrontational and the tribes lacked the experience to understand museum collections. However, Yellowman quickly learned and even often found compromise, for example, with the “Sand Man” remains, which he allowed to be scientifically studied before reburial. A series of missteps and lack of attention led to prolonged consultations between the Cheyenne and Arapaho for the Sand Creek Massacre scalp held by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. In 2005, Arapaho leaders finally reclaimed the scalp.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0013
[Sand Creek Massacre;repatriation;reburial;postcolonial healing;Joe Big Medicine]
Can repatriation heal? That is the question at the heart of this chapter, which explores the role repatriation has played for the Cheyenne and Arapaho in their efforts to have the remains of the Sand Creek Massacre victims respectfully buried. The experiences of Joe Big Medicine, Karen Little Coyote, Gordon Yellowman, Lawrence Hart, and other Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders provide a key way to answer this question. Much of the repatriation effort for the Sand Creek Massacre had been tied to establishing the Sand Creek Massacre National Historical Site. The site finally opened in 2008, with an area for burying the massacre victim reclaimed from museums and private collections. In 2008, the scalp long held by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science was finally returned, along with a few other sets of human remains. The Sand Creek National Historic Site does provide a space for healing, but healing may never come for some, while for others healing does not happen with reburial itself but by the process of directly confronting this past. Healing might also be elusive because there are still remains of massacre victims in collections that have yet to be returned.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0014
[Tlingit;Northwest Coast;Alaska;at.óow;potlatch;masterless things]
This chapter begins in Juneau, Alaska, in the office of Harold Jacobs, the official in charge of repatriation for the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska. Chip Colwell is there interviewing Jacobs to learn about the Tlingit’s work with repatriation. The focus of the conversation is about the numerous repatriations from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to Tlingit clan leaders. Colwell also meets Nora Marks Dauenhauer, a poet, anthropologist, and Tlingit clan leader, who introduces the concept of at.óow, which literally translates as “an owned or purchased thing.” The Tlingit have this concept for many pieces in museums, which they see as sacred and communally-owned by the clans. In the 1700s, traders from Russia and Europe first took an interest in Tlingit material culture and began collecting. By the late 1800s, collecting became more focused and extensive, as museums in North America and Europe began to compete the best and most complete collections of Northwest Coast artifacts. These collections—and broader U.S. and Canadian policies aimed at forcing assimilation—undermined Tlingit traditional practices, most notably the potlatch. By the mid-1900s, Tlingit culture was quickly fading.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0015
[Chief Shakes;Charley Jones;Mary Shakes;New Deal;Michael Johnson]
Charley Jones was a Tlingit tribal leader long denied an inherited title known as “Chief Shakes.” This chapter recounts the decades it took for him to finally gain this title, in 1940. The title of Shakes reaches back to the 1700s, when Wiisheyksh surrendered his name after a battle to Gushklin. The Chief Shakes title was passed through the generations and became prominent. In 1916, Chief Shakes VI died. Jones was to inherit the title from his uncle, but Chief Shakes VI’s wife, Mary Shakes, refused—wanting to follow American patrilineal inheritance rather than the Tlingit’s traditional laws of matrilineal inheritance. During the Great Depression, a New Deal program was created to promote Native arts and give Native Americans employment. Chief Shakes’ house was refurbished; to celebrate the opening Jones finally received his title. A massive celebration was held. At the celebration, Jones wore the Kéet Xaa Naaxein (Killer Whale Flotilla Robe)—but had to borrow it because Mary Shakes had already sold it. It eventually ended up in the hands of art dealer Michael Johnson, who, using suspect documentation, in turn sold it to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (then Denver Museum of Natural History) for $25,000.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0016
[Whale House;Klukwan, Alaska;Tlingit art;Louis Shotridge;Michael Johnson]
This chapter traces the notorious history of the Whale House in Klukwan, Alaska. For more than a century, collectors had sought the Whale House’s clan art, which many deemed to be some of the most beautiful pieces of Northwest Coast and Tlingit art. However, for generations, collectors could not purchase the pieces because they needed the consent of clan leaders and members—and many did not want to lose control of their clan treasures. Perhaps the most spectacular failure was by Louis Shotridge, a Tlingit tribal member who worked for the University of Pennsylvania Museum. The art dealer Michael R. Johnson persisted through the years, and finally in 1984 convinced a handful of clan leaders to sell him the pieces. The pieces were confiscated and a major lawsuit unfolded. The tribal concluded when Judge James Bowen found that the Whale House objects belonged to the entire Gaanaxteidi Clan: Johnson and the thirteen family members did not hold the right to sell them.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0017
[Harold Jacobs;NAGPRA;Tlingit;Iroquois;Robert Pickering;Kéet S’aaxw]
In 1991, Harold Jacobs wrote a letter to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (then the Denver Museum of Natural History) asking for the return of a carved hat, Kéet S’aaxw (the Killer Whale Hat) owned by the Dakla’weidi Clan in Angoon, Alaska. In 1974, Jacobs’ own grandmother, Annie Jacobs, had sold the hat for about $1,000 to Michael R. Johnson. Now Jacobs’ father, Mark Jacobs Jr., needed it back to fulfill his clan role. The Denver Museum began its consideration of the claim. Through the 1990s, the Denver Museum was committed to complying with the new federal law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, but was still uncertain of the effects it would have. However, in just complying with the law, the Denver Museum was beginning to reap numerous benefits, such as a new computerized inventory of all its collections. But by the early 2000s, the Denver Museum was out of compliance with NAGPRA and seemingly working to undermine repatriation claims made by the Tlingit.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0018
[consultation;NAGPRA;Tlingit;sacred object;communally-owned object;cultural survival]
This chapter describes in rich detail a consultation between Denver Museum of Nature & Science (then the Denver Museum of Natural History) staff (mainly Joyce Herold and Ryntha Johnson) and Tlingit clan elders in 2002. Nora Dauenhauer, Harold Jacobs, Mark Jacobs Jr., John Feller, George Bennett, and others were in Denver to claim several clan objects from the Denver Museum’s collections. The consultation reveals the intimate process—an intersection of ethics, politics, religion, tradition, and empathy—by which tribes assert their rights to objects and museums assess the validity of those claims under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). In the chapter, several sacred objects are focused on, including the Yeil Shádaa (the Raven Headdress), claimed by to be at.óow of the Lukaax_.ádi Clan, Yéil Hít, the Raven House, and the Kéet Xaa Naaxein (Killer Whale Flotilla Robe) that once belonged to Chief Shakes. Both of these items were collected and sold by the art dealer Michael R. Johnson. The consultation ends with the Tlingit acknowledging the museum was duped and had been good stewards, but asking that the pieces now go home where they could help contribute to the cultural survival of the Tlingit.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0019
[Tlingit;repatriation;Sheldon Museum;Dakla’weidi Clan;Lúkaax.ádi Clan;cultural revival]
This chapter explores the repatriations the Tlingit have completed and the effect of these repatriations on the community. In 1997, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (then the Denver Museum of Natural History) returned Kéet S’aaxw (the Killer Whale Hat) to Mark Jacobs Jr. and his Dakla’weidi Clan in Angoon, Alaska. By the late 1990s, the Denver Museum and Tlingit leaders were on good terms—three of the museum’s anthropology staff members were even adopted into clans. The Chief Shakes Killer Whale Flotilla Robe was finally returned to Wrangell in 2008. Chip Colwell travels to Alaska to interview people involved with the care of these returned objects. He learns that a number of them have ironically gone back into local museums, where they are cared for and protected. This is because of disputes within clans and the lack of buildings where clan treasures can be safely housed. Raymond Dennis Jr. talks at length about these types of experiences with the Lúkaax.ádi Clan’s Raven House in Haines. Still, despite low simmering conflicts, it is clear that the repatriated clan regalia plays a vital role in the revival of Tlingit culture and will help ensure the tribe’s survival into the next century.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0020
[Fred Dayhoff;Florida;NAGPRA;culturally unidentifiable;human remains;Miccosukee;Calusa]
This chapter begins in Florida, where Chip Colwell meets with Fred Dayhoff, the official responsible for repatriation for the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida. Dayhoff consulted with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for over a decade regarding culturally unidentifiable human remains. This is a category under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) for human remains that cannot be culturally affiliated with a federally-recognized Indian tribe, Native Hawaiian Organization, or Native Alaskan village. This is one of the most contentious areas of NAGPRA, as there are more than 100,000 sets of human remains in museums are culturally unaffiliated. Many scientists would prefer to maintain these skeleton collections for research, while many Native Americans would prefer to see them returned and buried. The chapter concludes by recounting Dayhoff’s unexpected career, and eventual introduction to repatriation. He was hired by the Miccosukee because they wanted t a non-tribal member to help them comply with NAGPRA; the dead are considered too spiritually dangerous to tribal members to deal with. The hardest cases that Dayhoff has had to work on are those concerning remains identified as Calusa, a historic tribe in Florida that is widely thought to have gone extinct.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0021
[Calusa;Seminole;Miccosukee;Frank Cushing;Aleš Hrdlicka;Plantation Key;skulls]
This chapter examines the history of the Calusa Indians, their relationship to the Miccosukee, and the archaeological study of them. The Calusa developed more than 1,000 years ago in southern Florida and were among the first Native Americans met by the Spanish in the 1500s. Meanwhile, in the late 1700s, Lower Creek groups in Georgia were also reeling from colonialism and were increasingly pushed south into Florida. One group began to form its own unique identity—the people that became known as the Seminole. In 1962, a splinter group broke off and became the Miccosukee Tribe. The archaeological history of southern Florida was first studied scientifically by Frank H. Cushing, and later advanced by such renowned scholars as the Smithsonian’s Aleš Hrdlicka. Numerous avocational archaeologists also collected Calusa remains. One mound was excavated by Clarence “Pop” Alexander, one of the first black Americans to live in the Upper Keys. His collection eventually made its way to Mary and Frances Crane, who in turn donated their entire collection to the Denver Museum of Natural History in 1968. This is how the Denver Museum came to hold 177 skeletal fragments and one Calusa skull.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0022
[NAGPRA;culturally unidentifiable;human remains;Calusa;Miccosukee;Florida]
This chapter begins with Chip Colwell recollecting his exchange with Fred Dayhoff rejecting the Miccosukee’s claim that the Calusa human remains in the Denver Museum of Nature & Science are culturally affiliated under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). When the details of NAGPRA were being finalized in 1990, one of the most difficult areas to find agreement on was the definition of “cultural affiliation.” Finally, all agreed it to legally mean” that there is a relationship of shared group identity which can be reasonably traced historically or prehistorically between a present day Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization and an identifiable earlier group.” However, once this compromise was reached, none of the parties could agree what to do with the objects and human remains that were left as culturally unaffiliated. Instead of this problem hampering the passage of NAGPRA, all agreed to hold this area “in reserve” (to be decided later). This allowed NAGPRA to become law, but left the question of the culturally unidentifiable as the law’s “unfinished business.” The Denver Museum could not affiliate the Calusa remains, so these skeletal framents were left in a kind of purgatory.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0023
[NAGPRA;Maria Pearson;Iowa Burial Code;Robert D. Ray;mortuary]
This chapter portrays the story of Maria Pearson, a kind of Rosa Parks for Native Americans, who was among the first to identify the racism inherent in some archaeological practices and stand up to the power structure that enabled scientists to turn Native American human remains into artifacts. Pearson was a Yankton Sioux from South Dakota, known among her family as Hai-Mecha Eunka, Running Moccasins. In 1971, Pearson’s husband worked for the Iowa Department of Transportation and learned of a cemetery near Glenwood, Iowa being excavated because of road construction. Twenty-six white people were excavated and immediately reburied while one Native American woman was excavated and turned over to the state archaeologist. The chapter has a brief interlude that considers when humans first buried the dead, why we continue to do it, and the wondrous variety of mortuary and funerary practices. After a night of spiritual reflection, Pearson drove to the state capitol and directly confronted the governor Robert D. Ray. This exchange eventually led to the revision of the Iowa Burial Code in 1976, which was the first law in the United States that gave equal protections to Native American skeletons and allowed reburial of Native American human remains.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0024
[culturally unidentifiable;cultural affiliation;Kennewick man;Ancient One;Review Committee]
After reflection of the legal and moral issues surrounding the Calusa collection in the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Chip Colwell resolved that it was important to return the Calusa human remains. This could be accomplished under a provision of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) that allowed the museum and Miccosukee to go before a seven member panel called the Review Committee to seek their consent, and the approval of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The Review Committee itself tried to resolve the culturally unidentifiable problem by recommending new regulations. The difficulties of such regulations are illustrated with a 9,300-year-old skeleton known as the Ancient One or Kennewick Man, found in. Five Native American tribes and eight scientists fought over the remains in a long legal battle. In 2004, the scientists won the lawsuit when a judge determined that the remains were so old they could not be considered “Native American” under NAGPRA. Scientific analysis proceeded. But in 2015, a new DNA study demonstrated that the remains were genetically Native American. The Denver Museum proceeded with the Calusa remains consultation but just as the work was completed, new culturally unidentifiable regulations were announced.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0025
[culturally unidentifiable;cultural affiliation;NAGPRA;Calusa;human rights;federally unrecognized]
The Miccosukee repatriation official Fred Dayhoff tried to retire, but the tribe would not let him because no one could replace him. When Dayhoff retires, he suspects that the Miccosukee tribe’s repatriation program will close. Despite the many repatriation battles he has fought, he considers the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) a success. One area of the law that has become more clear is the disposition of culturally unaffiliated remains. In 2010, the Department of the Interior promulgated new regulations titled 10.11, which creates a process for tribes to claim culturally unidentifiable human remains. The new regulations have been highly contentious and in many ways have brought out the old battle lines between Native Americans and archaeologists and museum professionals. Archaeologists question whether the regulation strikes an appropriate balance of interests in NAGPRA, while Native Americans argue that NAGPRA is about their human rights, not a compromise with scientific interests. Irrespective of this argument, the new regulations provided a means for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to return the Calusa remains to the Miccosukee. The remains were returned; Fred Dayhoff placed them back in nature according to Miccosukee cultural tradition.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.003.0026
[repatriation;NAGPRA;Denver Museum of Nature & Science;Crane Hall;collaboration]
This chapter summarizes how repatriation ended one period for American museums and ushered in a new one. In the last forty years, the far majority of museums have changed from institutions that resisted repatriation, to regretting their complicity in many collections unjustly taken, to reluctantly complying with repatriation laws, to respecting Native spiritual and cultural beliefs about their ancestors and cultural treasures. Museum professionals are no longer the exclusive keepers of culture. Repatriation itself has been a key theme in the plot to shift museums into a mediating space. Through the years I have learned that repatriation is not a dispute about material things, body parts, or sacred objects. Repatriation is about people—their views of faith and science, morality and mortality. NAGPRA doesn’t decide who owns the past. Rather, the law establishes an arena and set of rules—a “mediating space”—in which people must negotiate their interests. NAGPRA is not a decree. It is a debate over meaning, history, and the future. The conclusion is that repatriation, one of the most divisive controversies across Native America in the last generation, does not have to be a wedge. It can be a bridge between cultures.