Today, I arrived in Aberdeen, Scotland. It has been a long day, but it ended well at a gathering for dinner with scholars from the University of Aberdeen and Oxford and tribal representatives who were involved in the only two international repatriations from Scotland to tribes and nations in the U.S. and Canada. Good relationships have been built and ongoing partnerships developed. Scholars here are teaching their students to identify stereotypes of American Indian people and work toward stereotype elimination in society. They are also asserting the importance of working with American Indian communities, as opposed to working without them which has been done repeatedly in past scholarship and research here in Europe.
The conference tomorrow will reflect upon the two past repatriations from Scotland, but will also start looking forward to discuss how to increase the number of international repatriations to indigenous communities. In addition to the repatriation of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony, there will be a discussion on what I call a “cultural exchange of knowledge,” but what scholars here are beginning to call “cultural repatriation.” In short, this means cooperative studies among museums in the UK and tribes to study things such as quillwork and beadwork both remotely (through the internet) and in person through travelling exhibits to tribal communities.
Currently, Scotland is developing its own repatriation policies and procedures. (England has already done so.) Although such policies have already been developed in several individual museums in Scotland, a more formalized and centralized document is in the works. This document would reach across all non-private museums in the country.
The good news (was there much bad news in this post?) is that the University of Aberdeen appears as if it is working hard toward setting the stage for future international repatriations and “exchanges of cultural knowledge.” Like our economy in the U.S., Scotland and the UK have fallen on much harder times and funding issues could possibly mutually impede the development of these international relations because these sources have been depleted. In the U.S., we have seen several foundations slow or severely limit their grants over the past few years. Legislatures are also having to cut their programs significantly and these cuts have run deep, an indicator of which are the cuts many states are experiencing in education.
In many ways and for many reasons, this conversation cannot end because an economy is bad. Some ancient thought slips into my mind as I think about how to find the way around these obstacles: self-sufficiency. But, maybe this will be a longer process even than international repatriation or maybe international repatriation will bring us back to that point. When asked how his community began making international business connections for their tribal businesses in Japan and elsewhere in the world, one tribal elder today affirmatively answered: “international repatriation.” For him, that was the beginning of many activities in the tribe that brought the community back together and gave them greater control to self-determine the health and well-being of their own tribal members.