'For us to bring back these artifacts, that's a step towards healing. That’s a step in the right direction.'
It is rather uncommon for museums to return artifacts to the people they actually belong to. But a small private museum in Barre, Massachusetts, decided to do the right thing and return over 160 sacred items to the Lakota Sioux people.
According to My Modern Met, the Founders Museum in Barrie held the collection for a long time. It was acquired from the 19th-century salesman Frank Root, who reportedly collected indigenous items on his journeys during the 19th century to showcase in a traveling road show. Some of the weapons, pipes, moccasins, and clothing are thought to have a direct link to the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota where 300 Lakota men, women, and children were killed by US troops. A century later, Congress issued a formal apology to the Sioux Nation for one of the nation's worst massacres of Native Americans.
"It was always important to me to give them back," said Ann Meilus, president of the board at the Founders Museum, reports NBC Boston. "I think the museum will be remembered for being on the right side of history for returning these items." Members of the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes recently traveled to Massachusetts to take custody of the sacred items in a ceremony marking the culmination of repatriation efforts that had been decades in the making.
"Ever since that Wounded Knee massacre happened, genocides have been instilled in our blood," said 20-year-old Surrounded Bear, who came from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. "And for us to bring back these artifacts, that’s a step towards healing. That's a step in the right direction."
Wendell Yellow Bull, a descendant of Wounded Knee victim Joseph Horn Cloud, shared that these items will be kept at Oglala Lakota College for now while the tribal leaders decide their future. The 61-year-old added that he wants them to walk away from the ceremony remembering that "we all are human beings."
Sharing some pictures of the items they received from the museum, the Ogala Sioux Tribe wrote on Facebook: "Over 160 historical items including personal effects that were stolen off victims of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre are coming home to Lakota Country. A delegation led by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, including President Kevin Killer, and 5th Member, Justin Pourier, along with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Wounded Knee Survivors Descendants, the International Indigenous Youth Council-Oglala Chapter, assisted in making the transfer of these items from Barre, Massachusetts, to Oglala Lakota College, after over a century being kept in a collection. OLC will hold items until a plan of action and consensus building occurs amongst the tribes."