Category Archives: Spring 2017

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the Unites State’s official memorial to the Holocaust. It is located in Washington, D.C. near the National Mall monuments. The museum was established as part of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust by President Carter, on November 1st, 1978. The commission was chaired by Elie Wiesel, a Jewish author and Holocaust survivor aimed to submit a report “with respect to the establishment and maintenance of an appropriate memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust.

The museum was to be composed of a national museum/memorial, an educational foundation, and a Committee on Conscience. The USHMM was to become an institution with enormous efforts of education and outreach and global involvement. This is evidenced by the first visitor to the museum:  Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. Since then, the USHMM has had over 40 million visitors and it’s website is extensive and filled with resources.

It’s outreach and programming efforts continue to be strong thanks to the federal funding it receives as a National Museum. The museum’s permanent exhibition: The Holocaust examines the “chronological narrative” through a variety of media. It includes the Wall of Faces (pictured below) which aims to document victim’s lives through photographs, rather than emphasize their deaths . The  USHMM describes itself as: “A living (their emphasis) memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.” A clear emphasis on other genocidal and cultural conflicts can be seen through its other current exhibitions, namely Cambodia 1975-1979 and Genocide: The Threat Continues. 

All information about the USHMM was acquired from it’s website and in the sections history, about, current exhibitions, and more.

Other links:


Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) False Face Society Masks

Repatriating sacred items is an incredibly important practice. As with repatriating ancestral remains, returning sacred items helps indigenous peoples heal from generations of trauma and cultural suppression. These items are also central to debates about the exhibition of sacred items and about teaching non-Native peoples about Native cultures and lifeways. To illustrate the tensions between the items’ artistic and ethnographic value and their sacredness, I will be discussing Iroquois False Face Society masks.

The Iroqouis, who prefer to be known as the Haudenosaunee, are comprised of six nations: the Cayuga, the Onondaga, the Oneida, the Seneca, the Tuscarora, and the Mohawk. Their ancestral homelands included Northern and Western New York, parts of Ontario and Quebec, and a sphere of influence that extended to Virginia and Illinois (George-Kanentiio, n.d.). The Haudenosaunee have had many sacred items and objects of cultural patrimony taken and withheld from them, including False Face Society masks.

The Haudenosaunee flag. It is purple and white.
Flag of the Haudenosaunee.

The False Face Society is one of the Haudenosaunee’s medicine societies. The medicine societies cure various ailments with medical rituals. One becomes a member by being cured of an illness as the result of False Face Society rituals or by seeing the beings in a dream. The masks depict supernatural beings and confer healing abilities onto the wearers. To make a mask, one carves human-like, but distorted features into a living tree. Then one must separate the mask from the tree when it’s finished. The masks are regarded as living beings and are given tobacco, oils, and food as offerings. When not in use, the masks are cared for in a manner consistent with their status as vessels for sacred beings (Wallace, 1972, pp. 72-73).

In 1995, the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee issued a statement forbidding the exhibition and circulation of images of these sacred masks (Chief Leon Shenandoah, 1995). The statement also denounced the sale or distribution of masks to non-Native peoples. However, some Haudenosaunee artists object to this condemnation, stating that their livelihoods depended on art sales and that the masks encourage people to learn about Haudenosaunee cultures. A website for one art  supply and variety store discusses the conflicting messages it’s received from Native peoples regarding the sale of False Face Society masks. Unfortunately, some sources point towards non-Native people carving masks like the False Face Society masks for commercial purposes (Chichester, Inc., n.d.).

Chief Jacob Thomas wrote to Chichester saying this:

‘…Particularly today as there are no jobs this may be the only source for the people to make a living is to sell their art…If masks are forbidden to be sold and it becomes too sacred then it will become a secret and no one will be able to carve a mask and know what it means…’ (Chichester, Inc, n.d.).

As of 2017, the Haudenosaunee have repatriated a number of medicinal masks from museums including the National Museum of the American Indian, the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, and the Cayuga Museum. The Rochester Museum and Science Center attempted to test medicinal masks in its collection for toxic agents and decontaminate them. Unfortunately, museums do not often treat the masks as sacred, and the retention of and desecration of these sacred objects contributes to long term trauma for the Haudenosaunee.

The National Museum of the American Indian, located in Washington, DC, and its gardens.
The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, DC. It held some of the False Face Society Masks until they were repatriated.

Further Reading

Haudenosaunee Statement on Repatriation

An art supply/variety store discusses the masks

False Face Society information

A Native American Studies blog discusses the False Face Society

Works Cited (Note: Some of these sources contain images of the masks. I did not place any images of the masks in my post because the Haudenosaunee discourage reproducing images of the masks.)

Chichester, Inc. (n.d.). Iroquois False Face Mask Controversy. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from

Chief Leon Shenandoah, T. (1995). Haudenosaunee Confederacy Announces Policy on False Face Masks. Retrieved March 2, 2-17, from

Department of the Interior: National Park Service Notice of Intent to Repatriate Cultural Items: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. (n.d.). National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Retrieved from

Department of the Interior Notice to Repatriate Cultural Items in the Possession of the Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN. (1996, March 22). The National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Retrieved from

Gale Courey Toensing. (2012, June 16). Return of Sacred Items Heals Onondaga Nation. Indian Country Media Network. Retrieved from

Gale Courey Toensing. (2013, January 4). Cayuga Museum Receives Replica Wampum Belt for Returning Haudenosaunee Spiritual Objects. Indian Country Media Network. Retrieved from

George-Kanentiio, D. (n.d.). Ancestral Land Areas of the Six Nations Iroquois. Retrieved March 5, 2017, from

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy. (n.d.). Haundenosaunee Statement on Repatriation. Retrieved March 5, 2017, from

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy. (n.d.). Understanding Haudenosaunee Culture. Retrieved March 4, 2017, from

Ojibwa (Username). (2010, November 28). The Iroquois False Face Society [Blog]. Retrieved from

Rochester Museum and Science Center. (2009). Iroquois Medicine Face Testing and Decontamination Project – 2009. Retrieved March 5, 2017, from

The Struggles of the Iroquois League to Recover False Face Masks. (25 May 20122). [Blog]. Retrieved from

Wallace, A. F. (1972). The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca. Vintage.


The National Museum of the American Indian. (n.d.). National Museum of the American Indian [National Museum of the American Indian]. Retrieved March 7, 2017, from

Onondaga Nation. (n.d.). Haudenosaunee Flag [Haudenosaunee Flag]. Retrieved March 7, 2017, from×251.jpg

White v. University of California

In 1976, two 9,000 year old skeletons were unearthed during an excavation at the University of California, San Diego. The Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee, which represents 12 different tribes in California, filed suit for the repatriation of the skeletons in 2006, to which the University agreed. However, three scientists interested in studying the remains sued the University to block their return. A district court dismissed their claim, finding that the tribes were a necessary part of the suit but were protected by sovereign immunity, a decision upheld in the 9th circuit court of appeals. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2016, ending the dispute in the University and Kumeyaay’s favor (Zimmer 2016, San Diego Union-Tribune 2012).

Professor Gail Kennedy, who led the excavation that originally unearthed the remains

While the case’s outcome is positive from a repatriation perspective, its coverage across various news sources reveals powerful opposing viewpoints and often highly biased or dismissive attitudes towards repatriation claims. In 2014, the Indian Country Media Network announced a “court victory” for Kumeyaay tribes but warned that “the battle may be far from over as the plaintiffs plan to appeal.” However, more mainstream news sources took decidedly different tones. The New York Times titled an article covering the cases conclusion, “Tribes’ Win in Fight for La Jolla Bones Clouds Hopes for DNA Studies,” while an earlier headline associated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science reads, “Ancient American Skeletons Safe From Reburial, But Only for the Moment” (Zimmer 2016, Gibbons 2012). The same article refers to repatriation as “handing over 9000-year-old human bones to Native Americans” (Gibbons 2012). This kind of coverage reflects the opinions of the plaintiffs, who felt that repatriating the remains would constitute “a tremendous loss for science” (Zimmer 2016). More extremely, researcher Eske Willerslev argued that, “to give them away without study, would be like throwing the genetic crown jewels of the peopling of the Americas in the ocean” (Dalton 2011). These dismissive and frankly racist attitudes, which essential equate repatriation with waste and ignore the wishes and abilities of the Kumeyaay tribes, are made distinctly apparent by White v. University of California despite its outcome.

The age of the remains also lends particular importance to the case, in both its implications for the scientific community and how it highlights the disconnect between American Indian concepts of relationships with history and our own (“Western”) ideas. In other words, non-Native researchers might not be able to conceptualize the significance of such distant ancestors to the tribes that sought to reclaim them. This is especially relevant given that the age of the remains was concretely relevant to the case, as it was used to argue that the University could not show they belonged to any of the tribes involved. Says a representative for the plaintiffs, “We’re talking about remains that are old beyond belief. There’s no way that you can connect those remains to any present day Indian tribe” (San Diego Union-Tribune 2012). More than anything, this case brings to light the fierceness with which repatriation claims are still debated, and the troubling attitudes that may surround them.

Sources and Further Reading:

Image Sources:

Native Hawaiians Fight Back Over World’s Largest Telescope Built on Sacred Volcano

Unlike the millions of tourists who visit Hawaii for vacation, astronomers hope to leverage the island’s clear skies (limited light pollution) and towering volcanoes to understand our solar system. Their preferred location is Mauna Kea, the highest summit in Hawaii extending 13,796 feet above sea level. But while astronomers see this dormant volcano as the perfect location for a telescope, the native people of Hawaii, Kanaka Maoli, view it as a sacred site for their people. Since 1968, 13 telescopes, collectively known as the Mauna Kea Observatories, have been built despite protest from the Kanaka Maoli. Astronomers from Cal Tech and around the world have proposed a new telescope called the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) to tower 18 stories above Mauna Kea, but the Kanaka Maoli have had enough. The TMT protests began on October 7th, 2014 when protesters disrupted the ground-breaking ceremony and gained national attention as people around the world began to debate about scientific research vs native tradition.

Mauana Kea is a sacred site for Kanaka Maoli tradition and plays an important role in their creation story. Per legend, the island chain of Hawaii was created by the sky father, Wakea, and the earth mother, Papahanaumoku. Mauna Kea is considered their first born and despite its sacred role in native tradition, the scientific community continues to deface it with telescopes, disregarding the culture behind it. While the site has been defaced by the previous 13 telescopes, the TMT will be the largest telescope by far.

An artist concept picture of what the TMT Observatory will look like atop Moana Kea

When constructed, the $1.4 billion TMT will be world’s largest and strongest telescope standing 180 feet tall and a dome diameter of 217 feet. Equipped with a 30-meter primary mirror, the TMT is designed for optical and infrared observing and will help astronomers see 13 billion lightyears away. Compared to the Hubble Space Telescope, the TMT will have 144 times the collecting area and a better spatial resolution by a factor of 10. But despite the massive scientific upside to this telescope, its controversial location has sparked a legal battle and halted construction.

The Kanaka Maoli protesters have pursued legal action to preserve the sacred Moana Kea from the TMT. Protesters originally appealed the State Board of Law and Resources (SBLR) construction permit but was denied by a local circuit court. Unhappy with the decision, the protesters asked to bypass the Intermediate Court of Appeals and go directly to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and ruled in December 2015 that the TMT’s permit wasn’t valid because BLNR issued it without holding a contested court hearing. This violated native Hawaiians constitutional rights and the Supreme Court’s voiding the permit is a step in the right direction for honoring their cultural ties to the sacred Moana Kea. TMT began the process to obtain a BLNR permit again in October 2016 and are still in contested court hearings.

Protesters holding a sign to stop the TMT Observatory construction on the sacred Moana Kea volcano

While the TMT would have been the premier telescope in the world, it is unfinished and engulfed in controversy because of its intended location on the sacred Moana Kea. The Kanaka Maoli have been successful in standing up for their rights and culture by legally voiding the TMT construction permits through the Supreme Court. Additionally, the TMT team announced an alternative location for the telescope in the Canary Islands, Spain. Although TMT still prefers Moana Kea as the primary location, announcing an alternative sends a powerful message to the Kanaka Maoli protesters that their message is being heard and their culture will not be silenced.

Works Cited:

Picture Links:

Additional Readings:

American Indian Religious Freedom Act

Passed in 1978 and amended in 1994 the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, or AIRFA, re-emphasizes the First Amendment right to freedom of religion for the indigenous people of what is now the United States. The law aimed to rectify the centuries of religious oppression by the federal government which destroyed native sacred sites and forcibly removed people from their ancestral lands. The main aspect of the law had to do with public lands the secondary conflict focused on items traditionally used as ceremonial items that are illegal to possess such as eagle feathers or peyote, which is classified as a drug. The act also tells federal agencies to work directly with American Indian spiritual leaders to further protect their first amendment rights.

It is important to recognize that this act admitted fault in the actions of the federal government in its treatment of Native people, spaces, and rituals. But because of the lack of definition of terms the act was hard to enforce and use. It does not protect specific sacred sites such as the Black Hills or the sites associated with the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The 1994 amendment defined terms such as “Indian” and “Indian religion” but these terms themselves are not indigenous to the people and cultures the describe. Most native cultures in the Americas did not have clear definitions of religion or distinctions between religious practice and cultural practice in the way that Protestant Europeans understood them. For this reason, discerning exactly what pertains to “Indian religion” is next to impossible. Even the definition in the amendment is vague: “(3) the term ‘Indian religion’ means any religion – (A) which is practiced by Indians, and (B) the origin and interpretation of which is from within a traditional Indian culture or community.”

Eagle Feathers used alongside the American Flag

Recently the Act has been used by groups like the ACLU to help incarcerated native people get access to religious objects like eagle feathers. It would be interesting to see how this act could be applied to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, but it would be hard to argue the case. This is mainly because Native conceptions of sacred spaces are so different than Protestant and Eurocentric ideals. We think a site is only sacred if it has a temple or church or something like that. Native spirituality is inherently tied to the land and the history of the land, not the structures built on that land. In this way the land itself is sacred and therefore hard to protect in a capitalist society. An updated and stronger version of AIRFA would have to encompass this definition of sacred and worldview.

Sacred ideas invoked at Standing Rock



“ACLU To Fight For Religious Freedom Of American Indian Incarcerated In Wyoming.” American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., 9 July 2008. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <>.

Barkhausen, Matt. “Sacred Sites Destroyed: Dakota Access pipeline workers destroy Native American sacred site.” Blasting News., 08 Sept. 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

Buhl, L. (2016, September 6). Destruction of Sacred Burial Grounds Prompts Federal Judge to Protect Some Tribal Sites from Dakota Access Pipeline. Retrieved February 14, 2017, from

Eagle feather law. (2016, December 23). Retrieved February 14, 2017, from
“Possession of Eagle Feathers and Parts by Native Americans.” Fish and Wildlife Service,  Web. 14 Feb. 2017.



The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969

A diagram showing NEPA’s primary goals.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) is policy that is somewhat encouraging towards repatriation (especially of land), but also appears to wield more power than it truly does.  NEPA requires those making decisions on permit applications, adopting federal land management actions and constructing highways or other publicly-owned facilities ( to do environmental assessments (EAs), and environmental impact statements (EISs), evaluating the environmental, social, historic, and economic impacts (so, evaluation of the effect on tribes is included in the act)(  This is where the act falls short, however, the evaluation is all that is required – the ability to move forward with the project is not hindered by NEPA in any other way.  NEPA is merely an assessment to create informed opinions, and puts the burden of proof on American Indians.  The provisions in Executive Order 129898 seek to help rectify this, by making environmental justice, especially that affecting, “’minority populations and low-income populations,’ including tribal populations “(  Again, though, this Executive Order does not provide enforcement of doing the right thing when faced with EISs and EAs that suggest alternate construction plans – often with American Indians paying the brunt of businesses’/the government’s indifference.

Supporters protesting  injustice at Standing Rock.

A current example of this is the Dakota Access Pipeline – though the EIS shows the huge potential environmental harm to the Missouri river, as well as harm to the sacred and cultural sites of the Standing Rock Sioux, the Army Corps of Engineers has decided to pursue the project anyway (in the face of the land in question being sold to Dakota Access without the tribe’s consultation – directly in breach of environmental law)(The Dakota Access Pipeline).  Unfortunately, under NEPA it seems that the policy of asking for forgiveness rather than permission seems to be the rule of thumb in concerns to American Indian claims.  Though as easy as it is to view NEPA’s failures, it is still, “the quintessential ‘look before you leap’ requirement” (Throwing Precaution to the Wind) of US environmental law.  NEPA Success Stories shows just how positive an impact the act can have.  Though one of the success stories involved the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation ‘agreeing to disagree’ with the Department of Energy over the interpretation of treaty rights (so, ignoring the tribe’s wishes), other examples showed successful cooperation between tribes and other interested parties, all as a result of NEPA’s statutes.  On its own, NEPA does very little to help with the goal of repatriation and reclamation, but it does serve as a stepping stone in the right direction.


Citations + Further Readings

Official NEPA site links:

Existing Federal Law and the Protection of Sacred Sites: Possibilities and Limitations

The Dakota Access Pipeline: A Legal Environmental Justice Perspective

Image Locations:

Identity and the American Indian Movement

For centuries, Native Americans have been possibly the most neglected, disrespected, and oppressed communities on American soil. They are often viewed as powerless or weak, and their wishes and rights are often disregarded. In 1968, a movement emerged in hopes of restoring the identity of the American Indian and the hope that had been lost for generations.

The American Indian Movement (AIM) began in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a response to police harassment in the area. A group organized an “Indian Patrol” to monitor police due to the alarmingly

Pin featuring American Indian Movement logo. These pins were from a pow-wow in the Minneapolis American Indian Center.  See

high weekend arrest rate (Bigony 47). The Indian Patrol was a shocking success and managed to gave new hope to other Native American communities nationwide that they could also fight injustices in their community, which birthed the American Indian Movement.

Many were attracted to the movement for the promise of a better life through AIM’s commitment to changing the oppressive social structure that Native Americans are forced to endure. AIM hoped to achieve this goal by stressing the importance of reclaiming traditional Native beliefs. Encouraging communities to reconstruct their notions of personal and collective identity and reclaim their Indian identity creates a sense of unity and solidarity within the entire community, which increases involvement in protests and activism (Nagel 958). The growth of the AIM throughout the late 1960s also saw a surge of Indian pride and consciousness throughout the entire nation.

Photo taken at the takeover of Alcatraz in 1969. See

The biggest turning point of the AIM was marked by the Alcatraz takeover. One of the most well known Native activist moments was when Richard Oakes and Indian students from San Francisco State University claimed Alcatraz Island by what they claimed to be “right of discovery.” The occupation caught the attention of the civil rights movement that was intensifying nationwide. The takeover was monumental for both those involved and those who simply witnessed. It changed the lens with which everyone was forced to view Native Americans, which often viewed them as powerless (Nagel 958). The occupation proved that Native Americans are powerful and successfully highlighted the injustices of Native peoples while promoting ethnic pride.

Since then, AIM has successfully organized many protests and demonstrations that resulted in major milestones in the movement, such as, the Trial of Broken Treaties, the Bureau of Indian Affairs building takeover, the occupation of Wounded Knee, the Federation of Survivor Schools, and the Longest Walk. Although many of these demonstrations did not achieve their intended goals, they all powerfully promoted ethnic pride and ethnic consciousness despite the oppression faced by the government in a movement that continues to this day.

Works Cited

Bigony, Beatrice A. (1979). Attempting to Close the Sacred Circle: The Endeavor of the American Indian Movement. Central Issues in Anthropology 1(2): 41–62.

Nagel, Joane. (1995). American Indian Ethnic Renewal: Politics and the Resurgence of Identity. American Sociological Review 60(6): 947–965.

Further Reading

The 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee

The Lakota were in desperate need of hope at the end of the 1800s; food and land were becoming increasingly scarce. A Paiute holy man named Wovoka had a vision in which the buffalo returned and the whites disappeared, leaving the Sioux free to live peacefully as they once had. The way that this world would come about, he said, was by the return to traditional ways and the practice of the Ghost Dance.

The U.S. government saw the Ghost Dance as a threat to their underlying goals of assimilation and extermination because of the unison that it represented among the Sioux. This led to the sending of troops to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and the eventual occurrence of what is now known as the Wounded Knee Massacre, but what was once referred to as a battle by the U.S. It began with a gunshot of unknown origin that led the soldiers to commence firing on the encampment and resulted in the death of at least 150 Native men, women, and children and about 30 soldiers.

A lifeless Chief Big Foot (Spotted Elk) after the massacre

After the killing was done, Ghost Dance shirts, as well as other possessions, were stolen off the bodies and sold to museums and collectors. The repatriation of these stolen objects has been advocated for by the Wounded Knee Survivors Association who have had some success. Among the items that have been repatriated were locks of hair supposedly from Chief Big Foot that were at a library in Barre, Massachusetts and a Ghost Dance shirt that was given to the Kelingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland by a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1892. The shirt, which has enormous cultural significance because it was believed to have protective powers and was implemented in the Ghost Dance religion, returned home in 1999 after over a century of being overseas. Regarding its return, Marcella LeBeau of the Two Kettle Band/Cheyenne River Sioux said, “This will bring about a sense of closure to a sad and horrible event. Now healing can begin.”

The repatriated Ghost Shirt


Further reading on the:


The Truth About the Wounded Knee Massacre

Ghost shirt:

Wounded Knee: Healing the Wounds of the Past

Ghost Dance:

The Legacy of the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893

The World’s Columbian Exposition, a fair in Chicago in 1893, celebrated 400 years since Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas, but it was funded by colonialist powers in order to demonstrate human progress (Rinehart, 2012, 404). The Exposition endorsed racialized eugenics, contrasting a modern White City with the traditional Midway Plaisance, which was filled with ethnic villages (Fine-Dare, 2002, p. 22). Even though many people today recognize that this Exposition showed a backwards view of Indians, it is relevant because Americans have still not reconciled their notions of the Vanishing Indian with reality. Just as in 1893, the public continues to enjoy learning about Native Americans as an exotic, uncivilized, and long-gone race through sports.

During the World’s Columbian Exposition, Midway Plaisance stereotyped Native Americans as savages in order to amuse white tourists. Kathleen S. Fine-Dare (2002) provides an extremely upsetting advertisement of the event. It depicts two Native Americans with the caption, “These two… may never have scalped, nor built a fire around a prisoner, or flayed an enemy alive, but that does not signify that they would not do it if they had the chance” (p. 28). These types of advertisements of the event played into the stereotype that all Native Americans were aggressive savages (Rinehart, 2012, p. 419). It allowed the Exposition to neatly compare White City, the “pinnacle of civilization,” with Indians in the Midway Plaisance, who were portrayed as static, distorting the concept of evolution (Fine-Dare, 2002, 30). In reality, it displayed how little views had progressed about Native Americans since explorers met them in the late 1400s and early 1500s.

Ticket from the World’s Columbian Exposition. See

The American public continues to exotify Native Americans culture for public consumption. One of the most prominent examples is the Washington Redsk*ns. The team profits off of the derogatory caricatures of Native Americans. This legacy of colonialism is shameful. Some compare the pictures to using black-face or images of the Jews during the Holocaust (Woodrow Cox, 2016). According to the National Congress of American Indian, the name of the Washington Redsk*ns, specifically, ignores a long history in which Native Americans were killed and sold as commodities for their skins (National Congress of American Indians, 2013, p. 10). The stereotypes and negative views that were seen in the World’s Columbian Exposition have never died. Americans are still attached to stereotypes of Native Americans as uncivilized and barbaric.

Redsk*ns shirt available for purchase from the NFL. See

Fine-Dare (2002) reminds us that this history is relevant because there is a “cultural legacy of mourning” (p. 51). In many ways, the same racial motifs are disseminated by the media in 2017. These reinforce systems of oppression against Indians, who still exist in the US today. Although the US no longer holds the World’s Columbian Exposition, it is essential that citizens learn about it. Current conversations of Indians continue to only entertain, not educate, the public about different cultures.

For more on racism at the World’s Columbian Exposition, see The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition, by Ida B. Wells:


Works Cited

Fine-Dare, K. S. (2002). Grave Injustice: The American Indian Repatriation Movement and NAGPRA. University of Nebraska Press.

National Congress of American Indians (2013). Ending the Legacy of Racism in Sports & the Era of Harmful “Indian” Sports Mascots. Retrieved from

Rinehart, M. (2012). To Hell With the Wigs!: Native American Representation and Resistance at the World’s Columbian Exposition. American Indian Quarterly, 36, 4.

Woodrow Cox, J. (2016, August 9). Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo: Why the Most Offensive Image in Sports Has Yet to Die. Washington Post. Retrieved from

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