I’ve posted a couple of times (1, 2) on the proposed, callous use of a seated human figure bowl as a reality TV show prop. Well, worse than a prop, since the idea is to auction off this sensitive cultural property in pursuit of TV ratings and the advertizing dollars which follow. It’s sort of unfathomably insensitive and stupid, doubly maddening since it’s the CBC, a crown corporation and an entity which really should know better.
Anyway, there’s an interesting and insightful essay by Emily Benson on the IPinCH blog which adds a lot of thoughtful commentary and context for this issue:
The example of the seated human figure bowl and media discussions around it, reflect a broader set of questions and issues related to historical and contemporary relations between Indigenous peoples and settlers in Canada. This case reflects the importance of challenging both public and anthropological conceptions regarding the treatment of Indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage. Explicitly recognizing the relationship of descendant communities to their ancestral /sacred sites and objects, and their rights regarding their cultural heritage, are fundamental to doing so. Key to shifting these perspectives are recognizing the significance of cultural heritage sites and objects to living peoples, and their rights to make decisions regarding their heritage.
It’s part of IPinCH‘s* occasional series “Appropriation of the Month” – most entries are not about the NW Coast but nonetheless many readers here will find a lot of food for thought over there. I particularly encourage you to go over and leave some comments on the bowl issue!
Q: Almost seems like an Intellectual Properties rights case too? Maybe George Nicholas has some angles….Thanks, Dale
I am glad you’re writing about this, Quentin, and all other commentators. This is truly outrageous of CBC. But then again, we have “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS in the U.S.and that show is wildly popular, and unfortunately, Native American cultural objects show up there too. Part of the problem in the U.S. is that our laws are inconsistent: It’s illegal to remove, sell or trade archaeological and Native American objects from federal or Indian land (Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1979), but not on private land… And “arrowhead” collecting is decriminalized, even on federal or Indian land. This looks like an object of cultural patrimony to me: I would think that it cannot even be “owned” by a single individual, but certainly was owned by a social group (extended family, clan, or other tribal entity.) “Owned” is probably the wrong word… I am sure there were caretakers or guardians of this item. I hope the CBC at least interviews First Nation representatives to find out what they think. It makes my heart hurt to think of this being sold.
I’m tending my blog for at least a few days so sorry your comment was left hanging. It’s a strange feature of the Heritage Conservation Act up here that private ownership of such an evidently significant object or even “significant being” falls between the cracks. It’s a strong law in many ways but it magically seems to produce the nothing-can-be-done outcome in a lot of cases when the fat is in the fire. Anyway, as Emily points out in her essay, the solution is probably not to put this object in a museum although time and again we see that proposed as a solution to this kind of problem: if only the settler-collective would take over the object at the expense of the individual settler-person … it moves the scale of appropriation without solving it.
As fraught a process as actual repatriation to a community would be it is probably the only viable way forward.
My roots at Oregon go back 30 years with Mel and Don.This particular case has a strong attachment for me. As a Tribal archaeologist for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe in WA the Lower Elwha are engaged in a battle with WSDOT over the final repository of artifacts collected from Cixwicen village the site of the ill fated Graving Dock. WA state is taking the position that all artifacts collected from public lands in WA are the property of the state of WA the Lower Elwha have no right of ownership either culturally or historically. The risk in challenging this through the courts is either success or failure.
The BC Heritage Conservation Act has a major hole in that it is silent on ownership of artifacts. I understand that during the long and drawn out consultation regarding wording of the then new act (“Project Pride”, it ran for about 7 years) the First Nations refused to accept Crown ownership and the Province was unable to accept First Nations ownership (imagine in particular the complications on private land).
The result of these unmovable positions is that reference to ownership was dropped, weakening the Act considerably when it comes to collecting (though removing an artifact from a site is usually an alteration to the site and does require a permit). However, there is other legislation that can be fill some of this gap, for instance other statutes provide penalties for theft of crown property when removed from crown land. As Bill mentions, this approach is not acceptable to many First Nations but the ramification is that it makes it difficult to control non-permitted collecting.
I understand the object in question was collected well before there was legislation to deal with these kinds of things, so regardless of how well written current legislation is, it is not likely to apply to this bowl.
I just came across this article.
In this case, the featured artifact was pulled from auction. Fortunately, a photograph surfaced from 1860 of the artifact (a Sioux beaded and quilled hide shirt) on the assumed to be owner (Little Thunder).
‘Given its historic significance, the shirt would be considered under NAGPRA as an “object of cultural patrimony.” Attorney Bob Gough, who represents the Little Thunder family, likens it to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia or the Brooklyn Bridge, which, he says, “are properly seen as being a part of this nation’s history and culture, to be owned and held by us and by generations yet to come. Sale of these things by a present-day caretaker would not be considered legal.”’
The legitimacy of the seller was questioned, he claims that he had acquired it legally but in the end it was pulled from auction. I am curious to learn if legal action is taken and where the shirt ends up.