Native American Artifacts Auctioned


The Southern Oregon Historical Society sold a collection of artifacts December 5 that included a Cheyenne war shirt, said to be from the 1830s or 1840s, even though officials with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe expressed their objections.

"It's basically a slap in the face, but we've seen worse," Steve Vance, the tribal historic preservation officer, told the Mail Tribune.

According to the newspaper, the shirt is made of mountain-sheep hide and strips of buffalo, and is embroidered with porcupine quills. Red wool frames the shirt's neck and locks of hair hang from the sleeves.

Other Native American artifacts on the auction block included a Cheyenne tobacco bag, a Sioux pipe and a bow case, quiver and arrows, a Cheyenne mirror stick, a Navajo child's blanket, a Navajo chief's blanket and a Navajo serape.

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ppmickey's picture
Submitted by ppmickey on
How sad that the buyers couldn't have donated the artifacts they bought to the tribes they really belong to. I was given an Indian dress by my mother and have always cherished it. I used to hang it on the wall for others to see but was afraid it would fade or become damaged. I had no idea where she'd gotten it, probably an auction, or what tribe it was from. When trying to find my roots of my birth paternal side after my parents died I found our my birth paternal grandmother was at least 1/2 Cherokee. She must have been afraid of being found out that she wasn't completely white so in the different censuses I've gone to and other records I've found, she's stated she was white and has even gone by different names, so that's confused me more than ever. I always have wondered if it was something she meant for me to eventually have and had given to my mother, but now I will never know. I feel in my heart that she meant me to have it. ppmickey

toyboyinaussie's picture
Submitted by toyboyinaussie on
This is so typical misuse of items donated to museums. These overpaid curators need money for their salaries. They have no idea how to present the institutions works to make it a profitable concern. People should never donote historic items to museums, only loan them on the basis that the items are fully insured against loss and theft. The loss of these very historic items to a Russian collector or whoever is an absoluter shame, and the museum concerned should now pick up on the issue and start a sacking campaign and get rid of these idiots they have on staff (notice I don't use the words "working at the establishment". In a time when institutions are returning historical items to native cultures, you have an organisation dumping theirs. I am really shocked to the core. I would suggest legal action against the museum and the buyer for the return of the items to their original owners.

nighteagle's picture
Submitted by nighteagle on
these items belong to there tribes not individuals they are sacred how would they like us to go into there churches and steal there items!

darkwing1's picture
Submitted by darkwing1 on
If you think museum personnel are overpaid you are misinformed. 75% of the staff at this museum makes minimum wage and gets no health insurance benefits, overtime, sick leave, holiday pay, nor insurance. The Curator is also part-time and gets paid $18 an hour, also with no bnenfits. They are all advanced degree museum-trained professionals who follow the law and the American Museum Associations's Guidelines and Policies to the letter. They certainly are not there for the money, they are there because they care about heritage and are trying to keep the museum afloat after losing 100% of their funding when the County Commissioners recently chose to confiscate the tax money voted to the museum by the tax payers in the 1950s. According to AMA Guidelines and Standards museums do not accept long-term loans. The cost to curate and maintain an artifact currently is estimated to be $480 per cubic foot per year. Costs include staff who research and create exhibits, catalog intakes, keep records updated, clean, stabilize and return artifacts to the appropriate storage area, and process loan and research requests. It takes money to pay for archival quality boxes, polyethylene zippered bags, and acid-free paper. It takes money to purchase computers, software, and to keep computer databases in current formats. And finally, it takes money to pay for additional storage space, insurance coverage against fire, flood and theft, and to control the environment of that space so that potential hazards such as extremes in humidity and temperature or pest infestations do not threaten the collections. Museums simply can not afford such an investment to care for other people's property. The decision to deaccession an items is not made by one "idiot'. A process of checks and balances is in place, with teh initial recommendation report being presented to a Collections Committiee made up of museum staff, museum professionals from otehr facilites and members of the public. A recommendation is voted on and then forwarded to hte Museum Board of Supervisors, also made up of members of the public. The Board has the final vote. In this particular case, after deaccessioning the SOHS attempted to sell the Bones Collection to another public or non-profit institution for two years, including the tribes, with no success. The only option left was sale by auction. Sale to a private individual is against the law and the By-Laws of the SOHS. Items being returned to tribes are subject to the definitions stated in the Federal NAGPRA laws. None of the objects in the Ben Bones Collection qualified for status as NAGPRA designated items, therefore were not subject to repatriation. No legal action should be called for because no laws were broken.

darkwing1's picture
Submitted by darkwing1 on
Of course no one would tolerate stealing sacred items from churches. However the items in the Bones Collection are not sacred either, according to the definitions as outlined by the Federal NAGPRA law. Items of a sacred nature and objects of cultural patrimony would include such things as a tribal drum, ceremonial Kachinas dolls or medicine bags. Personal gear as represented in the Bones collection, are just that, personal in nature. A man's personal shirt, quivers, arrows and bow, tobacco bag and pipe have never been deemed to be objects sacred in nature, nor communally owned by the tribe. These personal items were traded by two consenting adults in the 1860's, one Indian and one white and have remained in the purchaser's family for generations until donated to the museum in the 1950s. The museum then held them in trust for another sixty years until such a time as they could not care for them anymore. The Sioux and Cheyenne tribes were contacted before the items went up for sale and unfortunately there was never any interest indicated.