Oneida Indian Nation, Colgate to continue dialogue, additional repatriation of objects expected
HAMILTON — During a repatriation ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 9, more than 1,500 funerary objects were returned to the Oneida Indian Nation, who was also given a formal apology by Colgate University.
The cultural artifacts were previously among the collections at the university’s Longyear Museum of Cultural Anthropology, many having been acquired during a purchase in 1959 from the family of an amateur archaeologist who collected them from sites in upstate New York, according to the Associated Press (AP).
The college’s acquisition of these items should have never occurred, said Colgate University President Brian Casey.
Choking back tears during the ceremony, Casey stood before the rows of boxes holding pendants, pots, bells, glass beads, ceramic pottery, knives, harpoons, turtle shell rattles, and other culturally significant items being returned (according to the AP), as he humbly apologized to the Oneida Indian Nation on the university’s behalf.
“The objects being returned today will now be in rightful hands,” he said.
It’s believed that many of these items were once interred with Oneida ancestors during burial.
Wednesday’s repatriation was among the largest single transfers of cultural artifacts in New York State history, according to the Oneida Nation.
The ceremony is the latest in a series of repatriations from Colgate that began in 1995 with the transfer of remains of seven Oneida ancestors and eight associated funerary objects. The transfer of remains of two ancestors and two cultural artifacts followed in 2002 along with the return of a sacred mask in 2019. Most recently in 2020, a wide-ranging inventory of the museum’s collections resulted in the repatriation of remains from at least six additional Oneida ancestors.
“For decades, too many museums and other educational and cultural institutions have followed indefensible practices regarding the ancestral remains and cultural artifacts of Native Americans,” said Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter. “These practices have been allowed to continue under the belief that preserving history is of the ultimate importance without questioning the means of doing so. They assume it is possible while divorcing the history from the people to whom it belongs, presuming to tell our stories with stolen artifacts and unfamiliar voices. Native people’s funerary and ceremonial objects should never be the property of museums in this way.”
He continued, “Our dedication to continuing this conversation is one of the many values the Oneida Indian Nation shares with Colgate University. We are grateful for these efforts, but equally grateful for the university’s and museum’s understanding that they are doing what is required in a society that meaningfully recognizes the sovereignty and dignity of Native people.”
Having these multicultural conversations helps ensure “that all of the stories of our region will be preserved for future generations to come, in our own voices the way it should be. The voices which are meant to be heard,” Halbritter said.
Additional repatriations are expected in the future as Colgate University and the Oneida Indian Nation continue to partner on the identification of ancestral remains and sacred and ceremonial objects within the Longyear Museum of Anthropology’s collections.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here