Barre Museum asked to return Wounded Knee Massacre artifacts, remains and sacred objects
Museum says NAGPRA doesn't apply, but it also appears to violate non-profit rules.
The Barre Museum in Massachusetts is receiving renewed scrutiny involving its collection of possessions related to the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Native Americans have long been calling for the items to be returned to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.
Chief Henry Red Cloud, the great-great-grandson of the famous Chief Red Cloud, plans to visit the Barre Museum Association, located at 19 Pleasant Street in Barre, Massachusetts, on April 6 at noon.
The museum only opens its doors briefly a few times each year, so Red Cloud’s visit has been timed appropriately.
According to organizers of Red Cloud’s visit, he will view the Barre collection of artifacts, remains and sacred objects pilfered from Indian people who were murdered at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1890.
The U.S. Army killed up to 300 Indigenous people during the infamous massacre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation after a failed attempt to disarm the camp.
The U.S. Congress in 1990 expressed "deep regret" for the massacre.
Red Cloud will also ask the Board of Directors of the Barre Museum Association to return these items to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.
“It has been widely reported that the gravediggers at the Wounded Knee Massacre removed these possessions from the bodies of the dead and buried them separately,” Mia Feroleto, publisher of New Observations Magazine, said in a statement announcing Red Cloud’s upcoming visit.
“Once the aftermath of the massacre subsided, they returned to claim their treasure and brought it back to the Barre area where the collection was sold to local resident Frank Root,” Feroleto added. “The room where these objects remain mirrors the long, narrow shape of the mass grave at the Wounded Knee Memorial on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.”
Leaders with the Association on American Indian Affairs say they are troubled by the Barre Museum Association’s failure to work with Native nations to return the items.
“It is feared that the so called ‘museum’ has been hoarding, not only items removed from the bodies of the elderly, women and children and others from the massacre at Wounded Knee, but that it also possesses Native bodies or body parts from the massacre,” Shannon O’Loughlin, CEO and lawyer for the Association on American Indian Affairs, said in a statement.
O’Loughlin, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, notes that the museum asserts that the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which requires the return of these stolen items to affiliated Native nations, does not apply because it has not received federal or other public funding.
However, O’Loughlin says that this is a poor argument, since it appears that the institution has not been in compliance with Massachusetts state registrations since at least 2016 and lacks all transparency of a 501c3 and a public education charity in the state.
“The institution does not provide annual or financial reports, and hoards its collection privately for the very reason to thwart federal law and the human rights of Native Nations – so they can violate the human rights of Native Peoples,” O’Loughlin stated.
“Their activity of keeping these belongings away from the Native Peoples who are the descendants and relatives of those that were massacred may not only violate laws, but is active and absolute racism, as well as immoral and unethical for any institution that holds itself out to be a public educational charity.”
O’Loughlin said that her organization holds every individual involved as staff or supporters of the Barre Museum Association as responsible for these continued acts of violence against Native peoples.
“We call on journalists, museum curators and directors that comply with NAGPRA, and other members of the public to demand transparency and accountability for the safe repatriation of all human remains and sensitive cultural items back to their Native Nations from the Barre ‘Museum’ Association,” O’Loughlin added.
We’ve reached out to the Barre Museum Association and will update when and if we hear back.
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