A war god at Oxford

October 9, 1998

American Indians are setting their sights on retrieving ancestral remains and artefacts overseas following their success in United States universities.

Several tribes have negotiated the return of objects from Canadian institutions and are holding talks with British museums.

Loren Panteah, an historic preservation officer of the Zuni tribe in New Mexico, said: "It is a difficult process because the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act only applies in the US and anything that is overseas has to be undertaken on a diplomatic level."

Several tribes have compiled lists of objects in British museums, which last year invited Timothy McKeown, team leader for the national implementation of NAGPRA, to speak to them.

The Chitimachas in Louisiana are holding talks with a London museum. Tribe chairman Al LeBlanc said: "It is the belief of our people that you must be returned to the earth before you can rest peacefully in the spirit world." The tribe has successfully retrieved human remains from Southwest Louisiana and is preparing to rebury them.

Among other museums, the Zuni are negotiating with the Pitt-Rivers Museum of Ethnography and Pre-History in Oxford for the return of a Zuni war god.

Already, about 80 Zuni gods have been repatriated from US universities and museums. The Zuni god at Oxford is a special case as it was carved by a white anthropologist who lived with the tribe, and was not a member.

One difficulty is that Customs demand a monetary value on items. "We believe they are priceless," Mr Panteah said.

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