In 1890, an estimated 300 mostly unarmed Lakota men, women and children were killed by the U.S. Army at Wounded Knee in the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota. Soldiers trying to curb a growing spiritual movement called Ghost Dance demanded that the Native Americans surrender their weapons, when a disturbance occurred and firing began. Following the massacre, clothing and other objects were removed from the dead.
Now, more than 130 years later, the Wounded Knee Survivors Association, a group of Lakota tribal members who are descendants of those involved or killed in the massacre, is asking a Scottish museum for the return of three items taken from the slain, reports Gabriella Angeleti of the Art Newspaper.
Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum acquired the artifacts—beaded moccasins, a war necklace and a child’s bonnet—in 1891. Lakota interpreter and former soldier George Crager was traveling with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Scotland when he either sold or donated the “curiosities” to the museum, according to Nick Allen of the Telegraph.
The museum returned a bloodied Ghost Dance shirt to the Lakota in 1999 following years of negotiations by Marcella LeBeau of the Wounded Knee Survivors Association, who died last year at 102, per Paul Drury of the Scotsman.
In 1992, a Native American man visiting Glasgow spotted the Ghost Dance shirt—thought to protect the wearer from harm—on display at the museum, reports the Scotsman. LeBeau, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation’s chapter of the survivors’ association, then began the process of repatriating the item.
However, the shirt was not presented to the survivors’ group, according to Shanti Escalante-De Mattei of ARTnews.
“It went to a tribal council, then a museum,” Charles New Holy, acting chief of the survivors’ association, tells the Art Newspaper. “The whole process overlooked us. Those items belong to our grandfathers and grandmothers—their spirit is still connected to them—but people see prestige and money in them. These are spiritual items that should not be displayed anywhere.”
Holy is hoping to avoid that outcome this time. His group is negotiating with the museum for the return of the items directly to his group. David McDonald, deputy leader and chair of Glasgow Life, an organization that manages several museums in the Scottish capital, is involved in the talks.
The museum is “continuing discussions with LeBeau’s family and the Wounded Knee survivors’ descendant groups,” McDonald tells the Telegraph. He adds, “Each case is highly individual and involves complex logistics, bureaucracy and costs.”
McDonald points out that when the Ghost Shirt was repatriated, the association had not requested return of the other three items, per the Art Newspaper. Holy says LeBeau was in the process of negotiating for those artifacts at the time of her death last year.
“I have spoken to my consortium about this,” he tells the Scotsman. “And yes, we would like these items returned. Why would you strip children of clothing after you murder them? We have every right to our ancestors’ belongings.”
Per the Art Newspaper, the return of these and other artifacts in the United States are governed under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Federally funded institutions are required to check their collections for indigenous objects and human remains for return.
However, no such agreement exists between the United States and foreign governments, the Art Newspaper points out. The return of such artifacts by overseas institutions is at the discretion of each museum.
Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota recently spoke about the Wounded Knee Massacre at a press conference. She hopes to create a “true memorial built there that attracts people from around the world to come to Wounded Knee and learn about the terrible things that have happened there,” she said, according to the Telegraph.
“Wounded Knee was horrific,” she added. “Our students should absolutely learn about the atrocities that happened there. I’m hopeful at some point the tribe will come to the table and work with me to do that. I think that’s something the state could partner with them on.”
In addition to repatriation of the items, descendants of Wounded Knee victims are campaigning for the revocation of 20 Medals of Honor given to soldiers involved in the massacre, per the Telegraph.