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Oregon tribe welcomes artefacts from British Museum

The 16 objects will go on display after a decades-long campaign by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde

Tribal artefacts that have been hidden away in the archives of the British Museum for nearly 120 years are being returned to a Native American tribe for an exhibit at its own museum.

The 16 objects will go on display on a small Oregon reservation after a decades-long campaign by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde to bring them back from Europe.

The intricate bowls, woven baskets and other pieces were collected by the Rev Robert W Summers, an Episcopal minister who bought them from tribal members in the 1870s and sold them to a colleague.

The colleague later gifted the objects to the British institution.

A spear head collected by the Rev Robert Summers (Gillian Flaccus/AP)

The Rise of the Collectors exhibit, on display at the Chachalu Tribal Museum and Cultural Centre in Grand Ronde, also includes basketry collected by Dr Andrew Kershaw, who worked on the reservation in the 1890s as a doctor and agent for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Together, the two collections are part of a larger plan by the Grand Ronde to reclaim and examine its history for future generations — a mission that echoes efforts by other tribes around the United States.

Two years ago, a Parisian auction house withdrew a ceremonial shield from an auction after the Acoma Pueblo, a tribe in rural New Mexico, moved to halt its sale.

And tribes from Alaska to Connecticut have used a US law passed in 1990 to reclaim Native American remains and sacred or funerary objects.

The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde wanted the objects back permanently, but worked out an initial year-long loan because a full return of items from the British Museum requires parliamentary action, said David Harrelson, manager of the tribe’s cultural resources department.

The bone handle of a canoe carving adze(Gillian Flaccus/AP)

The tribe never made a formal request to have the objects repatriated and instead chose to work with the London institution.

The temporary exhibit is regarded as a first step to more collaboration between the Grand Ronde and the British Museum.

“It’s a real privilege to be a part of this, where this material heritage is coming back to this community,” said Amber Lincoln, curator of the Americas section of the British Museum.

She and a colleague travelled to Oregon with the objects.

“This is what we work for, to bring people together … so that we all learn.”

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