Mark Gulezian/National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian
Martin E. Sullivan, who presided over the return of 12 sacred wampum belts to the Onondaga Indian Nation, walked on February 25.

Martin Sullivan, Who Led the Return of Sacred Wampum, Walks On


Powless also wrote: “I knew that this event would be remembered for a lifetime, especially [by] our white brothers who never had the opportunity to see the Round Dance before today.”

Sullivan was there for the return of the belts, to see what he started completed.

“There is increasing recognition that in addition to our primary duty of preserving and interpreting objects, we also have a related duty to help preserve and nurture the cultures from which those objects come,” Sullivan told the New York Times in August 1989.

“There’s always somebody that says, ‘I don’t want you to do this,’” Huxley told the Times Union. “And Marty would stand right up to them. He was very brave and very strong, and he never did things without thinking them through.”

Martin Edward Sullivan was born February 9, 1944 in Troy, New York. In 1965, he graduated from Siena College Loudonville, New York. He then went to the University of Notre Dame where he received a master’s degree in 1970 and a doctorate in 1974, both in American history.

Early in his career he worked for the National Endowment for the Humanities, then from 1983 to 1990 he was director of the New York State Museum in Albany, New York. From there he moved on to become the director of the Heard Museum of American Indian Art and History in Phoenix, Arizona, where he stayed for much of the 90s. From 1999 to 2008 he was chief executive of the Historic St. Mary’s City Museum in Maryland. Most recently, from 2008 to 2012, he served as the director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.


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