artnet: More than 20 years after an Ohio museum forced an indigenous group to buy back their own artifacts, they paid the tribe back

The Ohio History Connection, formerly known as the Ohio Historical Society, reimbursed the Nez Perce tribe for a collection of native artifacts that they forced them to repurchase in 1996. The payment was the last action to rectify the historical injustices.

Earlier this year, in a ceremony on June 25, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Ohio History Connection jointly celebrated the 25th anniversary of the return of the former Spalding-Allen collection – newly dubbed Wetxuuwiitin – meaning “back to school. at home after a period of captivity. ” Tribal representatives described it as a crucial step in “getting rid of the colonial legacy” of the items and reclaiming the Nez Perce culture.

Last week, November 23, the Ohio History Connection (which operates the Ohio History Center in Columbus) was invited again to the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho, where it returned the $ 608,100 the tribe owed. hastily collected in 1996 to purchase the collection from the Ohio Historical Society, which was under different management.

The Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee with representatives from the Ohio History Connection.

In a joint press release, Nez Perce Tribe Executive Committee Chairman Samuel Penny said: “We are delighted to see this error corrected.” Burt Logan, executive director and CEO of the Ohio History Connection, said, “As thrilled as I was to learn of the Wetxuuwíitin collection’s name change, the invitation was also a painful reminder of the shameful abuse and the marginalization of American Indians since the arrival of Europeans on the North American continent. ”

The object saga began in the mid-1840s, when a Christian minister named Henry Spalding was sent to bring a Bible to the people of the Nez Perce tribe living in the Oregon Territory. During his time with the tribe, Spalding acquired a collection of about 20 items, including handmade clothing and other native artifacts, and sent them to Dr. Dudley Allen, an Ohio benefactor who then donated to Oberlin College. Oberlin, in turn, loaned part of the Spalding-Allen collection to the institution formerly known as the Ohio Historical Society, although the items were never on display at Oberlin or the Historical Society.

When Idaho-based Nez Perce National Historic Park learned of the existence of the objects in the Ohio Historical Society’s collection in the 1970s, the two entities reached an agreement in which the society agreed to loan the items. objects at the park, to be displayed for 20 years. In the early 1990s, the Historical Society demanded their final return or to be paid the fair market price of the objects, and the tribe was forced to raise funds to redeem the objects in order to keep them in their possession. Following a nationwide appeal, the tribe raised more than $ 600,000 just two days before the six-month deadline expired, acquiring the collection as well as an important Nez Perce cradle.

At last week’s ceremony, Logan said, “If the Wetxuuwíitin collection were in the possession of the Ohio History Connection today, we would freely return these items to their rightful home. With this clear conclusion, our board of directors voted at their September 2021 meeting to return $ 608,100 to the tribe. Reflecting on historical wrongs, Samuel Penny noted, “These items are priceless, although we did not agree to having to purchase these items in 1996, we knew at that time that we had to buy them. take home, no matter what the cost. In an email to Artnet News, Logan added that “Organizations, like individuals, can grow, evolve and mature. Today we recognize how much our treatment of American Indians, their ancestors and their inheritance has been erroneous since our founding in 1885. We do not own any of this heritage; instead, we are stewards with a solemn responsibility to work in unison with the descendants of the Native Americans of today. hui. ”

The Wetxuuwíitin collection, which consists of clothing items made by Nez Perce men and women, includes elk skin dresses decorated with glass beads, fringes, elk teeth and dental shells; as well as men’s shirts, moccasins, saddle, horsehair rope, whips, belts and decorative hats. “These healing steps – bringing the items home, providing an appropriate name and now a refund – give our people hope and build on that connection that has been lacking for far too long.”

See below for images of objects from the Wetxuuwíitin collection.

Objects from the Wetxuuwiitin collection. Courtesy of Nez Percé National Historical Park.

Objects from the Wetxuuwiitin collection. Courtesy of Nez Percé National Historical Park.

Objects of the Wetxuuwiitin collection. Courtesy of Nez Percé National Historical Park.

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