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Repatriation Case Notes "Native Americans and Archaeologists"
February 26, 1999

 Auction Acquisitions to be Returned
Sotheby's December 2, 1998, sale of Native American objects was marked by the withdrawal of several items and the purchase of others by individuals who intend to return them to Indian authorities, according to a New York Times article. More than 600 lots were offered, but 19 were pulled before the auction, seven because of questions about whether tribes claiming the objects had been notified, and 12 because of questions about whether or not a 1916 act regulating the sale of feathers from migratory bird species was applicable. In three cases objects were bought with the intention to repatriate: a Plains ceremonial club ($7,745) that Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Montana had requested be withdrawn from the sale; a Yurok ceremonial dance apron ($11,500); and a seventeenth-century wooden Aleut mask ($46,000). All three buyers are involved, privately or in organizations, in supporting Native American education and heritage. They were advised in their acquisitions by Elizabeth Sackler, founder and president of the Manhattan-based American Indian Ritual Object Repatriation Foundation.
 Ghost Dance Shirt from Wounded Knee
The art and culture committee of Glasgow's city council voted unanimously to return a Lakota ghost dance shirt according to the January 1999 Art Newspaper. The shirt, stripped from one of the dead at Wounded Knee, was given to the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow by a member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which performed in the city in 1892. Transfer of the garment back to the Lakota is expected to take place this spring.
 Brain of Ishi, last Yahi Indian, at Smithsonian
Research in University of California archives has led to the rediscovery of the brain of Ishi, which was removed from his body during an autopsy in 1916. An Associated Press release dated February 20, 1999, states that the brain is in a Smithsonian Institution curatorial facility in Maryland. Ishi left the Sierra Nevada foothills in 1911; all other members of his tribe had perished from disease or were killed by settlers. He lived at a University of California Museum before dying of tuberculosis in 1916. After the autopsy, which was performed against Ishi's stated wishes, local scientists lost track of the brain. Ishi was cremated and his ashes stored at a cemetery south of San Francisco, but Indian leaders have refused to bury his remains without the brain. UC San Francisco administrators asked historian Nancy Rockafeller to see if the brain was still at their institution. Rockafeller told Duke University anthropologist Orin Starn, who is researching a book on Ishi, about the autopsy. Starn found records at UC Berkeley that indicated the brain had been transferred to the Smithsonian. In January, he confirmed the brain was at the Smithsonian. According to the AP report, the Smithsonian has contacted tribes in Butte County, California, to discuss returning the brain, but a Smithsonian spokesman told ARCHAEOLOGY that the museum has received no formal request for repatriation of it.


© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America