Prairie Chicken Society Headdress.
Low resolution image.
Image courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian (01/6748).
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian repatriated a Prairie Chicken Society Headdress and a Weather Dance Robe to Siksika Nation. The ceremony took place at the museum’s Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland, on July 7.
Siksika Nation, which is located in Alberta, Canada, maintains a network of societies that provide a foundation for their cultural and religious practices. The Prairie Chicken Society is unique to the Siksika, and the headdress once belonged to the society’s leader. It was accessioned into the Museum of the American Indian—the predecessor museum to the current National Museum of the American Indian—in 1908. The collector is unknown.
The Weather Dance Robe is associated with the functions of a Weather Dancer—a medicine man who maintains a divine connection with the sun. The primary function of a Weather Dancer is the control of the weather during ceremonial occasions, such as the Sundance. The Weather Dancer ceremonial obligations also include providing blessings for community members when requested.
The Weather Dance Robe in the museum’s collection was acquired by William Wildschut in 1924 from Yellow Old Woman, the robe’s maker and a noted Siksika Weather Dancer. Upon its return to Siksika Nation, it will be prepared for the Sundance Ceremony by Herman Yellow Old Woman, a current Weather Dancer and the great-grandson of the robe’s maker.
“Repatriation has always been one of the highest priorities for the National Museum of the American Indian,” said Machel Monenerkit, the museum’s acting director. “Our repatriation policy embodies our mission and vision, and we are proud to have worked with Siksika Nation to ensure the return of these objects.”
Siksika Nation Chief and Council Representative Kent Ayoungman and Ceremonial Elder Herman Old Yellow Woman attended the ceremony at the museum and were delegated to collect the Natowa’piists (sacred items) on behalf of Siksika Nation.
“The repatriation of our cultural property is necessary to the revitalization of the Siksika way of life and remains a top priority for the Siksika Nation Chief and Council who work with various public and private collections on repatriating Natowa’piists back to Siksika,” said Ayoungman. “It is a special thing to see these items coming home and to be a part of this process.”
Both the headdress and the robe are sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony. As defined in the museum’s repatriation policy, sacred objects are those needed by traditional Native American religious leaders for the practice of Native American religions, including objects needed for the renewal of a religious practice. Objects of cultural patrimony are those objects that have ongoing historical, traditional or cultural importance central to a tribe or Native Hawaiian organization or culture, rather than property owned by an individual. These objects cannot be alienated, appropriated or conveyed by any individual regardless of whether or not the individual is a member of the tribe or Native Hawaiian organization.
In partnership with Native peoples and their allies, the National Museum of the American Indian fosters a richer shared human experience through a more informed understanding of Native peoples.
Repatriation activities at the Smithsonian are governed by the National Museum of the American Indian Act (NMAIA), 20 U.S.C. §80q (Public Law 101–185), as amended by the NMAI Act Amendment of 1996 (Public Law 104–278). Based on the NMAIA, the museum has adopted a repatriation policy to address repatriation requests for human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects or objects of cultural patrimony.
Although the NMAIA does not apply to Indian tribes that are not federally recognized or to First Nations or Indigenous Peoples outside of the U.S., the museum’s repatriation policy (section VI) provides authorization for such repatriations on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the spirit of the NMAIA, the museum’s mission and in recognition of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Because Canadian First Nations have a similar political relationship with the Canadian government, the museum can work directly with Siksika Nation on repatriation matters applying the same standards internationally that are applied domestically. More information about the museum’s repatriation policy is available on its website.
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