Exotic artifacts that were hidden from the archives of the British Museum in London for nearly 120 years are being returned to an Native American tribe to get an exhibition during its very own museum.
The 16 objects will go on display Tuesday on a little Oregon reservation after a decades-long campaign by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde to bring them back from Europe.
The intricate bowls, woven baskets and other bits were collected from the Rev. Robert W. Summers, an Episcopal minister who purchased them from destitute tribal members in the 1870s and sold them into a colleague. The colleague afterwards gifted the items to the British institution.
The”Rise of the Collectors” exhibit, on display at the Chachalu Tribal Museum & Cultural Center in Grand Ronde, additionally includes basketry collected by Dr. Andrew Kershaw, who worked on the booking in the 1890s as a Physician and agent to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Grand Ronde is roughly 70 miles (110 km ) southwest of Portland.
Together, the two collections are a part of a larger strategy by the Grand Ronde to reclaim and examine its foundation for future generations a mission that echoes efforts by other tribes across the United States. Two years back, a auction home withdrew a ceremonial shield from an auction after the Acoma Pueblo, a tribe in rural New Mexico, proceeded to halt its sale. And tribes from Alaska to Connecticut have employed a U.S. law passed in 1990 to reclaim Native American remains and sacred or funerary objects.
The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde desired the objects back indefinitely but worked out an initial yearlong loan as a complete return of things in the British Museum requires parliamentary actions, said David Harrelson, manager of the tribe’s cultural assets department.
The tribe made a formal request to have the items repatriated and rather chose to work with the European institution. The temporary exhibition is regarded as a first step to collaboration between the Grand Ronde and the British Museum.
“It’s a real privilege to be a part of this, where this material heritage is coming back to this community,” said Amber Lincoln, curator of the Americas section of the British Museum. A colleague traveled to Oregon using all the items.
“This is what we work for, to bring people together … so that we all learn.”
In Oregon, the U.S. government in 1856 forced members of nearly 30 tribes and circles onto a brand new reservation to clean out land for white settlement. The mass relocation created a mess of individuals who brought with them languages and traditions out of what is now Northern California to southern Washington, a 350-mile (563-kilometer) span.
The government terminated treaties with these tribes about a century later and revived them in 1983, signaling an end to a tumultuous period that remains a fresh wound for many here. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde currently has 5,100 members.
Around the same time, tribal members still in Oregon first learned of the Summers collection and mounted on a campaign to repatriate those objects.
The federal law passed to help tribes recover artifacts from American museums did not apply to overseas institutions, so tribal agents traveled to London, hosted British Museum officials in Oregon and pursued talks over a period of years. The museum was welcoming, but the tribe lacked a safe space to keep the objects.
“In my heart, I felt like,’Those are ours, and we want repatriate whatever way we can to have those returned ,'” said Cheryle Kennedy, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.
Summers was passionate about collecting tribal artifacts and focused on finding things made before contact with Europeans which means a number of the objects on display were created before the tribes were forced on the reservation, said Travis Stewart, interpretive manager for the exhibit and a tribal member who picked the items on loan by the British.
That makes their temporary return even more symbolic, said Stewart, whose ancestors look posing with basketry in a photo in the display.
“There are spiritual teachings we lose, there are cultural teachings we lose,” he explained. “The fabric, the materials that these things are made of are from those people’s homes.”
Summers was intent on maintaining that legacy through his accumulating, a topic he returns to in detailed notes featured in the display.
He made several trips to Grand Ronde while stationed at a church in the nearby town of McMinnville, but finally sold his group to the Rev. Selwyn Charles Freer as Summers’ health failed. Summers’ wife, Lucia, made a hand-illustrated catalog of the group after her husband’s 1898 departure.
Freer in 1900 gifted the hundreds of things, in Addition to Lucia Summers’ illustrations, to the British Museum.
“I am hopeful,” said Kennedy, the tribal chairwoman. “The healing of our people is occurring.”