BOSTON ( Associated Press) – A Tomahawk once owned by Chief Standing Bear, a pioneering Native American civil rights leader, has been returned to his tribe after being housed in a museum at Harvard University for decades.
Members of the Ponca tribes in Nebraska and Oklahoma visited the University of Massachusetts on June 3 for the ceremonial return of the artifact, the tribes said in a recent announcement.
Standing Bear originally donated the pipe tomahawk to one of his attorneys after winning the 1879 court case that made him one of the first Native Americans to be granted civil rights.
The tomahawk changed hands several times before being acquired by Harvard in 1982.
“It’s a great homecoming and a great step in the many steps we need to take to return to our identity, to our ways of our people,” said Angie Starkel, a member of the Ponca tribe of Nebraska who made the trip to Cambridge. , said in a statement.
Stacy Laravie, a descendant of Standing Bear who is also the historic conservation officer for the Ponca tribe of Nebraska, agreed.
“We are talking about generation trauma, but we are not talking about generation healing, and that is what we are doing now,” she said in a statement. “It is healing.”
Jane Pickering, director of Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archeology & Ethnology, said the tomahawk’s return reflects the institution’s desire to repair previous damage.
“The Peabody has directly benefited from fundraising practices that we recognize today have ignored the wishes and values of families and communities,” she said in a statement.
Harvard and the museum have been criticized for the rate of repatriation of Native American remains and other important objects to tribes, as required by federal law.
The museum and tribes have been working on the tomahawk’s return for more than a year; tribal members would travel to campus before pandemic-related restrictions delayed it last year.
The Ponca tribes say they will announce plans to exhibit the tomahawk at a later date.
They were among many forcibly relocated from their homelands to other areas by the federal government in the 1800s.
Standing Bear was arrested in 1878 for leaving the tribe’s Oklahoma Reservation to fulfill a promise he made to bury his eldest son back in their tribe’s homeland in Nebraska’s Niobrara River Valley.
In his landmark federal trial, he successfully advocated for the recognition of Native Americans as persons entitled to rights and protection under the law.