Archive for Saturday, August 27, 2005

Expert says KU should return items to tribes

August 27, 2005

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James Riding In, an expert at telling museums which artifacts in their Native American collections are sacred and ought to be returned to tribes, spent most of a day perusing Kansas University's collection.

He said he wasn't impressed.

"Other universities take better care of their collections," said Riding In, an associate professor of Justice Studies and American Indian Studies at Arizona State University.

Riding In's assessment echoed concerns raised in May by a group of graduate students who accused the university of neglecting its 5,000-piece collection of Native American artifacts and its 4,800 artifacts from Africa and South America.

The two collections are stored on shelves and in boxes in Spooner Hall, which until 2002 housed the anthropology department's now-closed museum.

Riding In said many of the items - he declined to say which ones - are sacred and should be returned to their tribe of origin in accordance with the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

KU, he said, appeared to be out of compliance with the act.

"Some universities seem eager to comply," he said. "KU seems to be reluctant."

Kansas University students Jancita Warrington, left, of the Menominee and Prairie Band Pottawatomie tribes, and Johna Van Noy, right, are students concerned with the future of more than 5,000 Native American artifacts at the Anthropological Research and Cultural Collection. These students and others raised funds to bring in James Riding In, rear, a tribal consultant, to discuss the repatriation of many of the items that he considers sacred.

Kansas University students Jancita Warrington, left, of the Menominee and Prairie Band Pottawatomie tribes, and Johna Van Noy, right, are students concerned with the future of more than 5,000 Native American artifacts at the Anthropological Research and Cultural Collection. These students and others raised funds to bring in James Riding In, rear, a tribal consultant, to discuss the repatriation of many of the items that he considers sacred.

Riding In, a member of the Pawnee nation, met with several graduate students Friday in the Kansas Union. He told the group that government policies affecting Indians have long contained a "fundamental disrespect for our spirituality," and that within academia, sacred items are often viewed in material rather than spiritual terms.

Several students and faculty in the audience said the university hasn't followed through on its promise to take better care of the collection and to begin the process for returning pieces considered sacred.

"It gets talked about, there's an article in the newspaper and then - nothing," said Jancita Warrington, of Keshena, Wis., a member of the Menominee and Prairie Band Potawatomi tribes.

"This is an issue that's not going to go away," Warrington said. "I don't understand why it isn't being addressed.

Mary Lee Hummert, associate vice provost for research, disputed the assertion that KU has been dragging its heels.

"KU just got through spending $350,000 to upgrade (Spooner Hall's) air-handling and ventilation systems and $21,000 on a fire alarm system - both to protect and preserve the collection," Hummert said. She called the collection a "wonderful resource."

Hummert said an advisory committee will soon begin sorting through the issues raised by Riding In and the graduate students.

"This is not something you can just pick up a telephone and do," she said. "It's a massive undertaking, and the university needs to proceed very carefully."

The eight-member committee is expected to begin deliberations next month. Plans call for assembling a budget in time for the 2006-07 school year.

Mary Adair, the collection's interim director, also defended the university's approach.

"I think we're in compliance with NAGPRA," she said. "But I also think there's a lot that needs to be done."

Riding In urged KU to:

¢ Hire a NAGPRA compliance officer.

¢ Hire a full-time curator.

¢ Ensure proper storage.

¢ Set up a process for identifying, respecting and returning items considered sacred.

¢ Explore the environmental hazards posed by the turn-of-the-century practice of using arsenic and strychnine to protect artifacts from insects.

Riding In declined to be photographed with the collection.

"No, there are spirits in there," he said.

Comments

kcwarpony 9 years, 9 months ago

"I think we're in compliance with NAGPRA,"

Compliance isn't the real issue, respect is. KU will do only what it HAS to and not what it SHOULD do. Five thousand piece collection stored on shelves in boxes. Who does this benefit? And what kind of resource can it be if it is in boxes?

"KU just got through spending $350,000 to upgrade (Spooner Hall's) air-handling and ventilation systems and $21,000 on a fire alarm system - both to protect and preserve the collection,"

KU didn't spend all that money just for the collection and for no other reason. If that was the case, KU could have saved money by returning the items or renting a climate controlled storage bin somewhere.

Respect, please.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 9 months ago

If Spooner Hall will not be reopened returning the items seems appropriate. Repect the consultants advice.

It would be very nice to have the museum open once again. Allow our baketball program to help fund the wonderful KU resource. The athletic department should donate a sum equal to the Lew Perkins pay package. Spooner Hall would be a worthwhile endeavor for the KU athletic department to pursue.

Spooner Hall was an excellent resource for a group of homeschoolers who were receiving anthro classes on a monthly basis prior to it's closing . Quite interesting as the young children were eating it up.

b_asinbeer 9 years, 9 months ago

Couldn't agree with kcwarpony more...

"KU just got through spending $350,000 to upgrade (Spooner Hall's) air-handling and ventilation systems and $21,000 on a fire alarm system"

The only reason KU probably spent all that money installing a fire alarm system is that the old one is getting...old. And they need to be up-to-date on the fire code. That is the only reason...KU should be ashamed of theirselves. Updating the firealarm is not about protecting the artifacts....please, spare me.

Plus, why would they have closed Spooner Hall as a museum in general? I remember when I used to go there two or three times a semester. It was such a joy. It's a shame now that they're all just sitting in boxes.

rtwngr 9 years, 9 months ago

Let's beat up KU over this whole issue. Who would think about thanking them for preserving these artifacts that might have been sold or destroyed in years past. Maybe some of the artifacts were bought from the indigenous people that were hanging around the fort looking for a handout.

b_asinbeer 9 years, 9 months ago

rtwngr--I hardly think you can call throwing certain valuable artifacts in a box with little ventilation "preservation" as you or KU calls it.

I'm not a KU-basher by any means, because I agree with you on one stance that KU does need to be credited for accumulating them and keeping them around, but proper care needs to be given to them.

kcwarpony 9 years, 9 months ago

rtwngr, You are correct, KU has done their best to perserve and keep this collection safe and they should be thanked but the time has come to move on and return the items back to where they belong, with their people.

rtwngr 9 years, 9 months ago

Let me clarify my definition of "preserving". Being saved from possible destruction in the past. Being kept for future generations to study and enjoy.

Let's be intellectually honest about the motives, here. There are those that will use an opportunity like this to bash anything, "waspish" or "culturally western" to gain notoriety. There is nothing wrong with the University of Kansas maintaining these objects. Ringing In stated that all artifacts considered "sacred" should be returned. His agenda is to take back these items from the no good white folk.

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