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Erie County group seeks to return Indian artifacts

post-gazette.com

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

ERIE, PA. (AP) -- "The Erie County Historical Society and Museum is contacting up to 60 American Indian tribes around the country in an effort to return artifacts to their rightful tribal owners.

The group in northwestern Pennsylvania notified the tribes that it had as many as 75 items, such as baskets and knives, that could fall under the 1990 Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act.

The law requires museums and federal agencies to review their collections and return human remains and sacred objects to tribes.

But James Adovasio, director of the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute at Mercyhurst College in Erie County, said few, if any, items in Erie were eligible for return under the law.

"There are nowhere near 75 items that are potentially repatriatable," Adovasio said. "I seriously questioned the need for the inventory."

Erie historical officials have sent out letters and photos of items to about 30 American Indian tribes since August. One tribe, the Crow Indians in Montana, has responded.

George Reed, the leader of the protection and repatriation program for the Crow tribe, wants to know more about a beaded leather sash he saw in a museum photograph. He said he wanted more information and photos to determine if it was a part of his ancestors' ceremonial dress.

Erie museums have worked with the national program, which is a section of the National Park Service, for several years as they sort through thousands of American Indian items, said museum curator Steph Taylor.

The group tried to "err on the side of caution" when it identified items that could fall under the federal guidelines.

Many of the items were donated to Erie County museums by residents who bought or found American Indian pieces during vacations, Taylor said, adding that some of them were made for the tourism industry.

"The information we have indicates that some of the items were made for ceremonial purposes," Taylor said. "We don't know for sure, and it's not up to us to decide if it's not ceremonial."

Copyright 2002 Pittsburgh Gazette

Posted by Mikoa 18 to NDN AIM

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