The Parthenon Marbles, Past to Present

The Elgin (Parthenon) marbles, consisting of sculptures and friezes, are displayed around the world today – about half of which in the British Museum, thanks to Lord Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 1800s. By “rescuing” these artifacts from the “barbaric” Turks, Elgin believed he was doing a service to the art by preventing it from decay.

Today we must ask, to whom do the marbles belong? Taken from the Parthenon in Greece during a time of political turmoil, many people, including myself, believe they should be repatriated and reunified in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens. Others consider the marbles to be rightfully owned by the British Museum, and that repatriation to Greece would unfairly strip the museum of precious artifacts and displays. In considering these differing viewpoints, it’s important to realize who benefits (or doesn’t) from the repatriation process.

Some of the Elgin marbles on display at the British Museum.

Despite it having been over 200 years since the Elgin marbles were first displayed in the British Museum, the issue of repatriation has still not been resolved. The museum argues that Elgin was in the right when he first obtained the marbles because the artifacts were already in disrepair. In addition, a Parliamentary Committee in 1816 affirmed the legality of the acquisition and display of the artifacts (British Museum – Parthenon Sculptures). But, just because it was deemed legal in the eyes of the takers of the artifacts, does not mean it was legal to the people of Greece! Even so, the current trustees of the museum argue that having the marbles in both London and Athens promotes an understanding of Greek culture, transcending political boundaries.

On the other hand, organizations such as the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (IARPS) have sent letters to the British government as recently as 2014, asking them to participate in the UNESCO mediation process proposed in 2010 by Greece for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles (IARPS). They consider the marbles to be illicitly acquired cultural artifacts. They are put on display in London for no charge, but considering Greece’s current debt crisis, I think displaying the marbles in Athens for a charge could be a form of economic repatriation.

Some of the Elgin marbles on display at the New Acropolis Museum. Would repatriating the British Museum’s collection provide the New Acropolis Museum with better exposure and funds in a country currently in economic despair?

In reference to Elgin’s actions, what the British Museum describes as acting with full knowledge and permission, IARPS describes as stripping and taking away. But, the British have refused to meaningfully discuss why Greece deserves the marbles back. These conflicting viewpoints provide insight into the complications of repatriation, belonging, and ownership. I believe that due to the political climate in what is now Greece at the time when the marbles were taken, they couldn’t have been justly acquired, regardless of any paperwork Elgin could have presented. There will never be a single right answer that every group involved can agree on – but hopefully there will come a point where it is the responsibility of the taker to address the concerns of those from whom cultural artifacts were taken.

Works Cited

British Museum – Parthenon Sculptures

International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures

Photo Sources

New Acropolis Museum

Why the Elgin Marbles Should Stay in London

Understanding Indigenous Archaeology

Burned Cliff dwelling known as Keet Steel at Navajo Nation National Monument

A topic that appears frequently when discussing anthropology and repatriation is Indigenous Archaeology. Although I remember this concept being mentioned throughout my time studying archaeology and anthropology, thinking back, I realize I never exactly knew what the exact definition was and what actions it involves. It seems that I am not the only one. The definition is still being formed, changed and perfected today and many authors and anthropologists admit that it is hard to come up with and decide on one.

George P. Nicholas, in his definition of indigenous archaeology for the Encyclopedia of Archaeology(1) states that it is the intersection of native knowledge and values with the field of archaeology, as well as collaboration with indigenous people. It also includes having a critical perspective on what past archaeologists have done. His definition explained in the words of Dr. Sonya Atalay (Ojibwe Tribe), is “archaeology done with, for, and by indigenous people”, although of course it is not that simple. Indigenous archaeology is not just archaeology done by indigenous people, which is what most people assume, but it is also a way of conducting archaeology practice and theory that involves Native American people collaborating with archaeologists or directing the archaeology themselves. It also must involve a critic of western and colonial archaeology practices while continuing to research and respect indigenous peoples experiences and beliefs. These ideas of Indigenous archaeology can also be applied to other countries and other indigenous people.

Dr. Sonya Ataway, Anthropologist and Archaeologist and a member of the Ojibwe Tribe
Dr. Sonya Atalay, Anthropologist, Archaeologist and a member of the Ojibwe Tribe

One of the problems that Nicholas claims in his paper Seeking the End of Indigenous Archeology is that there shouldn’t be a divide between indigenous archaeology and archaeology, all archaeology should be indigenous archaeology. Instead, it is seen as something that is new, different and on the sidelines of popular archaeology. I would agree, and add that is also seen as a form of resistance and rebellion within the archeology community.

An issue that arises with that is, as Vine Deloria states, that “American society has, in fact, institutionalized rebellion by making it popular” (Deloria, 98). It has been made into a consumer product and become popularized, so that everyone wants to be different and fight for a cause.  One of those causes I could see being indigenous archaeology. For example, one must understand that consultation is different than collaboration, and although a person can say they are doing indigenous archaeology, they aren’t actually being respectful or beneficial to the indigenous people. Indigenous archaeology is very important and something that can help decolonize the fields of anthropology and archaeology and attempt to right past wrongs. However, I fear that just stating it as a solution without understanding what it entails is problematic, for we must actually do our part to a help, we can not just speak and write about it without realizing we all have a part to play.


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Further reading:

Picture resources:

Indigenous Feminisms and Repatriation: Kim Anderson’s “Critical Practice of Tradition”

“[M]any ideas that pass for Indian thinking are in reality theories originally advanced by anthropologists and echoed by Indian people in an attempt to communicate the real situation.” (Deloria 82)

Similar to Vine Deloria Jr.’s concern with the infiltration of destructive anthropological theories into Native American societies, Native American and Indigenous feminists engage with the internalization of colonial values. This process of critically engaging with values and practices that appear “traditional” but are in reality manifestations of internalized colonialism can be understood as a form of mental and cultural repatriation.

Kim Anderson, Cree/Métis
Kim Anderson, Cree/Métis

Understanding mental decolonization as repatriation is facilitated by exploring Cree/Métis writer Kim Anderson’s book A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. This work explores the concept of the critical practice of tradition (Anderson 34-6), which emphasizes how the colonial influence on many “traditional” practices has rendered them violent to Native American societies and women specifically, and therefore why all “traditional” practices should be met with critical thought.

For instance, Anderson notes the importance of explaining the roots of menstrual taboos that preclude the participation of women in certain ceremonies like the Sun Dance. Without explaining that these taboos exist because menstruation is a time of extreme power for women, these practices can be interpreted as illustrating that Native women are unclean when menstruating, which implicitly perpetrates the violent attitude that Native American women are inherently violable (Anderson 37-9). In this example as in others in her book, Anderson advocates for finding the root values in traditions and to “expand” from there. Anderson acknowledges that in some situations this process means reconstructing traditions in new ways that are flexible to the needs of Native American women, which works against static understandings of Native American “culture” or “identity.”

A diagram from Anderson’s book, based on the traditional medicine wheel, that illustrates her process of identity reconstruction for Native American women, an important step in rehabilitating and reconstructing traditions (Anderson 16).

Linking this work of mental and cultural decolonization to repatriation, I believe that indigenous feminisms, like that of Anderson, encourage an ideological repatriation within their own communities. As explored above, Anderson encourages Native American groups to repatriate within themselves the core values that create positive gender, social, and political worlds, especially for Native American women.

One important note to make is that although colonial influence created the negative traditions Anderson speaks of, Anderson does not involve colonial powers in this healing and decolonizing process (unlike the repatriation work of NAGPRA that involves both settler and Native American groups). I believe this is because Anderson recognizes that outside influence has had a largely negative effect on Native American women, and so she has little reason to believe that things will be any different when trying to heal by taking away colonial values. This is a similar argument to those made by Native American groups concerning their reticence to work with NAGPRA.

Ultimately, if repatriation is defined as “to return to one’s homeland,” the “things” Anderson wants repatriated are the ideological values of the homeland, with the intent of ensuring the homeland becomes and stays a safe and positive cultural and physical space for all of those who claim it as such.

Text and Image Sources:

Anderson, Kim. A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. Toronto: Sumach Press, 2000. Print.

Deloria Jr., Vine. Custer Died for Your Sins. New York: Collier-Macmillan Limited, 1969. Print. 

Further reading on/about Indigenous feminisms, thinking about repatriation:

(I would recommend thinking specifically about how Andrea Smith illuminates the links between “tradition” and heteronormativity.)

Chapter 3 “Colonizing Knowledges” of Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies. (Vassar library call number: GN380 .S65 2012)

(I recommend specifically the introduction and sections “Establishing the Positional Superiority of Western Knowledge” and “The ‘Authentic, Essentialist, Deeply Spiritual’ Other” in this chapter.)

#blacklivesmatter and #sosblakaustralia: Bridging the Divide Between Anti-racist and Anti-colonial Activism

Rally Held In Baltimore Day After Charges Announced Against Officers Involved In Freddie Gray Death
Protesters filled the streets of Baltimore after the murder of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. Gray’s death has become emblematic of police brutality and state violence against people of color in the United States.

As our readings by Vine Deloria Jr. have shown us, “A democratic society is always up tight about real rebellions because its very operating premise is that rebellions are nice. When rebellions turn out to be not so nice, panic prevails.” (Deloria 98).  Although written in the 60s, recent protests against state violence in New York City, Baltimore, and Australia have demonstrated that Deloria’s point remains salient. From this realization, the question looms: how are we to build resistance movements that are able to pierce through the “panic ceiling” that has lead to reporters calling black protesters “thugs” and aboriginal Australian protesters “selfish?” One proposed answer to this problem that has emerged in recent years is the possibility of going global and building transnational networks of activism, resistance, and alternative media representation.

One major obstacle to achieving transnational solidarity, however, has been the stark divide between anti-racist activism and anti-colonial activism within the United States. The lack of solidarity between black and Native American activist circles is not only confusing, but it makes certain “causes” wholly incoherent. The mutual support between anti-racist activists in the US and Palestinian activists, for example, is complicated by not including Native American activists and their causes. How can US-based activists fight for the self-determination of the Palestinian people and not do the same for the indigenous peoples whose land they are occupying?

Andrea Smith, a Cherokee feminist scholar, suggests that the gap between decolonization and anti-racism in the United States is itself the result of anti-blackness. By this, she suggests that

the colonization of Africa must disappear so that Africa can appear as ontologically colonized. According to Justice Daniel [the judge who made the famous Dred Scott decision in 1857], since only “nations” can be colonized, nations in Africa can never have existed. It is only through the disavowal of colonization that Black peoples can be ontologically relegated to the status of property. Within the Dred Scott decision, Native peoples by contrast, are situated as potential citizens. Native peoples are described as “free” people, albeit “uncivilized.” While because of their child-like primitive state, they are not worthy of citizenship at the moment, they may eventually become citizens if they were to renounce their relationship to their Native nation and demonstrate the “maturity” required to become a citizen. (Smith)

Smith further suggests that this “disappearanc e” of the colonization of Africa relegates black Americans to the status of “internal property” of the United States–making anti-racism a domestic movement “that cannot challenge the settler state itself” and, thus, further reifies the colonization and genocide of Native Americans.

Aboriginal protestors and allies “shut down” Melbourne city center on April 10th and May 1st to bring attention to the Western Australian government’s plans to close as many as 150 remote aboriginal communities. Many have alleged that such a move by the government falls under the category of “cultural genocide” as defined by the UN.

If we are to take Smith’s claims seriously, reframing anti-racism within the broader framework of global decolonization may be a more fruitful way of conceptualizing state violence within the United States and abroad. This is not to say that Native American and black activists should unite under the same cause per se but, rather, understand that remaining entirely separate movements only furthers anti-blackness and colonization. The state violence we have seen against the black residents of Baltimore does not exist in a vacuum vis-à-vis the closure of remote aboriginal communities in Australia or the high rates of teen suicide in Pine Ridge. These pockets of violence are certainly not the same, but they are undoubtedly tied to processes of colonization and violence that uphold modern nation states like the United States and Australia. This drastic unification of anti-violence movements around the world may sound far-fetched, but I’ve found similar statements on Facebook made by tribal elders in Australia, in a speech made by a community activist in Baltimore, and now I’m saying it: it’s time to get past boundaries meant to divide communities, like anti-blackness, and realize we have more to gain by committing to decolonization on a global scale than we have to lose (and have already lost).

Further Readings:


(1) Andrew Burton/Getty Images

(2) Jake Nowakowski/Herald Sun

Lack of Media Coverage for Murdered and Missing Native Women

As Sara Baartman’s case showed us, indigenous women have been objectified, appropriated, and fetishized since the beginning of colonialism in order to justify the conquering of “lesser” people. One of the biggest weapons used against native people during colonization was sexual violence against women. Since the aboriginals were viewed for the most part as “dirty” and “without god” any violence done toward them didn’t count because they weren’t fully human. Indigenous women all over the world were taken and abused since the beginning of westward conquest, a trend that we can still see playing out in today’s world, but many of this stories were never publicized.  Baartman’s story was overly publicized and exploited, but many other involving taken and murdered indigenous women were largely forgotten and unreported- a trend that can still be seen today.

Across North America, particularly we will look at Canada, the effects of these colonialist ideas still permeate how native women are treated and seen in society. Indigenous women are going missing and being murdered at a much higher rate than other women in Canada- a rate so high it constitutes nothing less than a national human rights crisis. Aboriginal women aged 25 to 44 are five times more likely to suffer a violent death than other women in Canada. And yet, these cases often go unreported in the media and are not given the same attention as white women who suffer the same. The media coverage of native women in Canada and the U.S. that is broadcast typically serves to reinforce stereotypes of native women. Kristen Gilchrist, a researcher on native women in media, found that a feeling of “otherness” permeates the coverage on missing and murdered native women, instead of feelings of united outrage and communal togetherness that is present in most stories on similarly situated white women.

The group, No More Stolen Sisters, campaigning for better legislation to protect aboriginal women.


Also, the problem is as much in the U.S. as it is in Canada. Studies in the United States have shown that darker-skinned women receive less coverage than white women, but so do women who are at higher risk for violence such as sex trade workers, women living in poverty and those with drug addictions. Scholars call this bias, which divides victims into stereotypes of pure women who are newsworthy victims and fallen women who are not, “missing White woman syndrome.” This goes back to reflect the ideas that certain women, especially indigenous women, are un-pure and therefore fine to abuse.

Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press file photo Posters of missing or murdered indigenous women are displayed at a vigil in Canada.

The Canadian government’s lack of response to this human rights crisis is setting the tone that they do not care about aboriginal women and their lives. Groups all around Canada are calling for an end to this human rights crisis and are calling for change. They are saying that it is not longer acceptable to not pay attention to native women and to not view them as equal members of society. The colonialist ideas around the bodies of aboriginal women will no longer be acceptable and they will not tolerate a lack of publicity. Racist and sexist stereotypes deny the dignity and worth of Indigenous women, encouraging some men to feel they can get away with violent acts of hatred against them, but with an increase in media coverage publicizing this as unacceptable, this might help decrease the violence against native women.

Additional Readings:


The Sexualization of Native Women

When I was reading the accounts of Saartje Baartman and the way she was turned into a racialized and sexualized Other by Europeans, I thought back to Dr. Adrienne Keene’s lecture about the offensive images of Native American women that have existed for centuries. Like comments made by those who put Baartman on exhibit, early settlers in the Americas saw Native women as extremely sexualized and as theirs for the taking. In this way these women represented the land that needed to be dominated and controlled while reaping the benefits from it.

Although Baartman’s body itself became a display and an object, Native American women’s bodies have been collectively objectified in a process that turns real human beings into sexualized caricatures that can be sold for profit. From offensive Halloween costumes to images on food items to the trendy war bonnets worn at photoshoots and music festivals, the bodies and symbols of Native women been appropriated and commodified by a postcolonial structure that refuses to see Native women as contemporary and multi-dimensional.

Typical "Poca-hotty" costume
Typical “Poca-hottie” costume


Bulane-Hopa (2011) writes of the trauma of seeing oneself and one’s culture depicted by the former colonizer, made worse by a lack of control of choosing how to be portrayed. While Bulane-Hopa focuses on the medium of film, I see the depiction of Native Women fitting into such a framework as well. Both a sense of personhood as well as very real economic resources are lost when Native women are not given a say in how they will be represented.

The question of how this fits into repatriation is tricky. In the context of Native American women’s bodies, it is not a matter of hundreds of remains or several dozen funerary objects, but rather an entire collection of images that have already been proliferated through mainstream America. The first response I could think of was to stop using images and symbols of Native women—or to go a step further, all indigenous people—on items not produced or endorsed by Native women themselves. Yet this only halts a process that has been going on for a long time.

If repatriation is about giving back items and knowledge of spiritual importance, then perhaps advocating for the representation of Native women BY Native women could be a means of doing this. Giving due attention to the complicated and humanized depictions of Native women while also focusing on the alarming problems that many face (see additional readings) could be a way to restructure how Native women are ‘exhibited’ in our society.

Native American actress and producer, founded Spirit World Productions, a company meant to allow Native people to tell their own stories, has produced many award winning documentaries
Joanelle Romero: Native American actress and producer, founded Spirit World Productions, a company meant to allow Native people to tell their own stories, has produced many award winning documentaries


Sources and Additional Readings

Image 1:

Image 2:



The Sarah Bartmann Centre of Remembrance

In 2009, the South African Department of Arts and Culture announced a competition to design a Sarah Bartmann Centre of Remembrance. As the Department of Arts and Culture announced, the aim of the center is, “ to honour and document the life of Sarah Bartmann as well as the heritage of the Khoi and San people” ( The center would be built adjacent to her grave site, as a way to aid in the development of the local economy of the Kouga municipality in which the grave resides (

Sarah Baartman's grave site, located in the East Cape near her birth place. It is now surrounded by a fence due to a history of vandalism.
Sarah Baartman’s grave site, located in the East Cape near her birth place. It is now surrounded by a fence due to a history of vandalism.

The description of the center that was announced during the opening of the design competition outlined three ‘doctrines’ that the design should be based around: memory, healing, and hope.(2) The Khoi Khoi community was said to have been consulted in the development process of these doctrines. It was also announced that the center would be linked to the development of the KhoiSan Heritage Route, a project that would connect and promote sites important to the Khoi Khoi and San communities.

The architecture firm Wilkinson Architects eventually won the design competition, producing models for a center that defined “a circular route… that leads from the informal to the sacred, via Memory, Healing, and Celebration spaces” ( Memory spaces include a “Genocide Wall” to educate visitors on the history of the Khoi and San people, and what seems to be an exhibition space depicting the life of Sarah Bartmann. Gardens and ponds are also included, presumably as healing spaces, and it is unclear what or where the celebration space is. Though the firm’s description says that, “subtle references to the Khoi-San people and way of life come across through sensory experiences and textures,” it never mentions that the Khoi or San communities were included in the development of the design.

The outdoor section of the model of the Sarah Baartmann Centre for Remembrance created by Wilkinson Architects
The outdoor section of the model of the Sarah Bartmann Centre for Remembrance created by Wilkinson Architects

Though the center has yet to be constructed, it seems due to a lack of funding (though there is not much information available), the model itself already includes problematic elements that may work to further objectify Sarah Bartmann. Images of the exhibit space on Wilkinson Architect’s website show enormous images of Bartmann covering the walls, many of them showing her naked or in offensive cartoons from the time. Still, this is only a model, and no clear plans are available for the exhibition space. Ideally the Khoi Khoi community is an integral part of the development of this space, and it works to affirm Bartmann’s personhood rather than reobjectify her by focusing solely on her image and exploitation.

The architect's model of the exhibition space at the remembrance center, which includes large depictions of Baartman's nude body.
The architect’s model of the exhibition space at the remembrance center, which includes large depictions of Baartman’s nude body.

Though the center is almost definitely going to be built, I think it is also important to ask whether this is the best way to remember Sarah Bartmann- or whether it is remembrance that should even be sought. It is impossible to know what Bartmann would have wanted, but it is nonetheless important to be critical of the ways in which sites for memorial or remembrance might work to reobjectify Bartmann or work against the spirit of her repatriation.


(1) Bartmann was a part of the Khoi Khoi, a South African indigenous group. The San are a group that the Khoi Khoi are often grouped with because of there geographic proximity, and the term KhoiSan is a recognized “ethno-linguistic group” yet still controversial to some because it lumps the two groups together. (

(2)The descriptions of these doctrines are as follows:

* Memory: to affirm the personhood and the life of Sarah Baartman and to develop a space as a repository for the cultural-heritage of the KhoiSan.
* Healing: given the past injustices against Sarah Baartman, the Khoekhoe and San peoples, to affirm the culture of human rights.
* Hope: to affirm the cultural heritage of the Khoekhoe and San people, and expressing the hope for it renewal, through transmission to these to younger generations and rigourous research to preserve those aspects which have
enduring value. (

Sources and further reading:


Image sources:

Image 1:

Image 2 and 3:

Who Owns History?

Throughout this course we have argued that objects should be returned to their rightful owners through repatriation.  I aim to complicate this with the question, who owns antiquity?  When civilizations lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, who inherits their legacy and heritage?  With a global population that is widely dispersed between multi-ethnic nations, it is hard to define any kind of pure cultural heritage. Who owns the past? Gillman queried if national heritage reflects the makeup of  current inhabitants of a state or past groups that occupied that same space.  Current nation-states do not reflect the geographical makeup of the past.  How do we account for this when considering ownership of antiquity?  How does this affect repatriation?

Symbolism from antiquity can be found all over the globe.  The Roman symbol of the fasces can be found throughout United States Government buildings,  including many locations in the U.S. House of Representatives.   Does the United States have a right to use this Roman symbol?  The United States uses symbols like these from antiquity to ground its own legitimacy as a western nation.  As people of Roman descent now live all over the world, who owns Roman heritage?  If  Italy does,  antiquity is limited by geographical boundaries that may not reflect the widespread communities who claim Roman ancestry.

Office of the Clerk, House of Representatives
(Office of the Clerk, House of Representatives)  Note the Roman symbol of the fasces, a large bundle of sticks tied around an axe, in bronze on the wall of the U.S. House of Representatives
Close up of fasces in House of Represntatives
Close up of fasces in House of Representatives

With physical artifacts from antiquity, this discussion of ownership is incredibly relevant.  Changing nation-state configurations today affect ownership of antiquity that can be especially detrimental in current cases such as the destruction of cultural heritage by ISIS and the Assad regime.  The Taliban, as leaders of the state of Afghanistan used its authority to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas.   These nations have used their power to control heritage.  Yet this is no new trend in history –  throughout time nations have destroyed objects that would now be considered important to cultural heritage.  Antiquity is used as a political tool for power by nations.

Destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by Taliban in Afghanistan
Destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by Taliban in Afghanistan

James Cuno argues that national cultural-property laws  “ are not intended to protect the world’s ancient heritage…they are used to legitimize modern governments’ claims as heirs to an ancient past.”  Nations can determine their own laws and what they wish to do with their antiquities.   UNESCO has attempted to mediate this by the creation of World Heritage sites that are supposed to be respected as international sites of heritage.  How, as an international community, can strive to better value and respect antiquity across national boundary lines?

Recommended and Referenced:
James Cuno – “Antiquity Belongs to the World”
Peter Lindsay – “Can We Own the Past?”
Gillman. The Idea of Cultural Heritage, 2010.
UNESCO World Heritage
Information on fasces and fasces image source
Wikipedia Bamiyan Buddhas image source
Amy Gazin-Schwartz -“What the Islamic State’s Destruction of Antiquities Means to Archaeologists”

The Sámi: Indigenous People of Scandinavia

When we talk about the plights of indigenous populations we rarely think of any groups in Europe. Aren’t these people usually the colonizers? Most of the time this is in fact the case. However one group of native Scandinavians, the Sámi, have faced discrimination, exploitation and grave robbing, just as Native Americans have.

A Sámi mother and child in traditional dress.

The Sámi are a nation of traditional, semi-nomadic, reindeer herders that reside in northern Scandinavia, the majority of which live in Norway. Tensions between the Sámi and Norway have always been tense. Norway had adopted a policy of “Norwegianization” in1870, very similar to Americas forced assimilation policies. Children were taken away from their families and placed in boarding schools where they were told their Sámi heritage and language was of little value and they were discouraged from speaking it. This policy was only discontinued in the 1980’s.

As part of the Eugenics craze in the early 1900’s over 1000 skeletons were taken from their graves and transported to the Anatomical Institute at Oslo where their skulls were weighed and measured in order to prove that they were genetically inferior to Norwegians. of these skeletons, 94 have been returned to the Sámi people and reburied in their original graves.

Reburial of the 94 individuals repatriated to the Sámi.

Today the  Sámi people are in better shape than they have been in past years. In 1987 a law was passed in Norway that recognized the Sámi as the Native people of the region and that “It is the responsibility of the authorities of the State to create conditions enabling the Sámi people to preserve and develop its language, culture and way of life.” (Sami Act 1987) This also established a Sámi Parliament which acts as an institution of cultural autonomy.  In 2007 they were acknowledged as the basic institution on all things regarding reindeer farming.

Those 1000 skeletons are under the control of the Sámi people, they are kept in a separate room from the rest of the institution’s collection and the Sámi council dictates what research can and cannot be done on them. In 2011 a group of researchers studying the genetic history of Norway were denied access to the skeletons for fear that they would use the data for political  reasons or as the president of the Sámi Parliment, Egil Olli, said, “to prove the Sámi are not Sámi.”  The researchers argue that a greater knowledge of the genetic lineage of all Norwegian people could help give a better understanding of where they all came from. But can several centuries of prejudice and mistrust be overlooked? What would this research mean for the Sámi living today? Would it further their claim as the native people of Scandanavia? Or would it be used only to harm them as science of the past has done?

Additional Reading

Repatriation to Sámi people:

Additional info on Assimilation:

Sámi Policies in Norway:

Genetic Research on the Sámi:

Jemima Pierre and Diaspora

Jemima Pierre, pictured here, is currently a professor at UCLA, researching and teaching on the African diaspora
Jemima Pierre, pictured here, is currently a visiting fellow at Vanderbilt University, researching and teaching on the African diaspora

Jemima Pierre’s speech at Vanderbilt University in 2013 begins by tracing the term “diaspora,” one of the two primary topics of the panel’s discussion that evening. The originally Western term (Greek in origin) has been applied to many shifts of group identities in the globalized lens of history. However, as Pierre points out, since the so called “British Cultural Incursion” over the last 20 years, there has been a tendency (by a significant portion of scholars) in theoretical discussions of African diaspora to conceive of all the dispersed cultures through the lens of syncretism.

The minimization of Africa as a source of culture for contemporary Black people follows from the assertion of syncretism amongst cultures of the diaspora, which is problematic and reeks of British attempts at some neocolonial hegemony of African history. Additionally, the assumption of syncretism between post-diaspora peoples is reminiscent of the perception of Native American cultures as a monolith since the colonization of North America.

Another interesting point in this comparison comes when introducing the term “homeland” into the discussion of African diaspora and post-colonial Native American cultures. As Pierre points out, there has been a tendency to label Africa as the homeland of the past without granting this “mother culture” much in terms of considering the role it plays in a continued dialogue across the Atlantic Ocean. It is this “either/or” mentality which has also pervaded outsider (non-Native) concepts of Native American identity.

In Pierre’s discussion of the rampant generalization of diverse, dispersed Black cultures, we see many more points of continuity to Native American cultures. The tendency by anthropologists and historians (as she terms it) to simply document “the Blacks over there,” resonates strongly with the ethnographic lens through which many Native cultures have been viewed and subsequently documented — cemented in text, seeping into the national consciousness and concepts of Native peoples.

Another overlap occurs when Pierre laments the economic hegemony of European forces in Africa which still continue to this day, crippling many nation-states’ ability to economically flourish and of course threatening sovereignty. The current state of the majority of Native American reservations in the US speaks volumes, each one its own living testament to the economic, cultural, and political consequence of many histories of violence and colonial incursion.

What should we glean from these many similarities? Instead of taking them to mean that cultures of the African diaspora and Native American peoples are inherently similar, perhaps we should look at the root of these many commonalities: colonialism. The overlapping challenges experienced trace their roots to wounds delivered by the same sword. It is through this commonality that, as in the case of the pan-Indian movement of Native rights, these very different groups could come together to fight against a common enemy, buoying one another with a unified activism.

A comparison of the American Indian Movement’s flag to the black power symbol popular since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s


image source 1 and 2 and 3

additional resources: an interview with Pierre and her notes from a lecture in Virginia