Tribes Demand Return of Native Scalps From Karl May Museum in Germany
The Karl May Festival, an annual event in honor of the German novelist who spun imaginative tales about American Indians and the U.S Old West well over 100 years ago, will be held in Radebeul, Germany from May 30 to June 1. In addition to the many German Indian hobbyists and fans who come from around the world, it has grown to include delegations from North America tribes encouraging Native tourism and cultural understanding.
The Karl May Museum states it is “dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of Karl May, and serves the public by advancing knowledge through exhibitions, educational programs, publications, events and guided tours.” When Mark Worth, a former news reporter and activist for Transparency International, learned that Native scalps were on display there, he called the museum in 2010 and spoke with its public relations director, André Kohler. He was informed that the museum did, indeed, have Native American scalps on display and more in storage.
Worth says that after being given the same line used by French auction houses to “successfully argue for their sale of Hopi and Apache sacred items as that country has no laws to protect Indigenous Peoples, and the items were rightfully in private collectors’ hands,” he was told the museum was a private institution, and was hung up on. But that didn’t stop him.
He researched the history of the scalps, then contacted anyone he thought might help, including the Chippewa, Arapaho, Cheyenne and other tribes, administrators of the NAGPRA program (The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act), the office of U.S. Senator Al Franken, who sits on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the Smithsonian Institution's Native American repatriation office and the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.
In 2013, a representative of the U.S. Embassy replied that if a tribe wrote a letter seeking an inquiry into the situation, the embassy would try to intervene on their behalf. In the fall of 2013, Karen Little Coyote and Dale Hamilton of the Arapaho-Cheyenne Tribes in Oklahoma, who both work for their tribes’ Cultural Heritage Department, were contacted. Along with other staff members of various tribes, they sent a letter to the embassy asking for the scalps to be returned.
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