Thursday, December 2, 2010

U Penn to return cultural patrimony

The University of Pennsylvania lost a NAGPRA federal committee review of their bid to keep a collection of some 40 artifacts from an Alaska tribe. I have no problem with the committee's finding - I would like to see institutions err on the side of repatriation - but I did find this comment flabbergasting:

Most of the items were purchased for $500 in 1924 in Hoonah by Louis Shotridge, a Tlingit man from Klukwan who worked for the Philadelphia university. The school's museum added the items to its collection.

"I guess he believed he was doing the right thing by preserving it," review committee chair Rosita Worl said. "Whereas a good Tlingit wouldn't do that. They would see the most important thing is it's used in our ceremonies and see it as sacred objects."

OK, the committee has the right to determine who has the right to the collection, but I don't think they have the right to determine who is a "good Tlingit" and who isn't. Wow.

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