Courtesy Wikicommons
The upcoming Karl May Festival in Radebeul, Germany, from May 30 to June 1, will have plenty of controversy leading up to it.

Tribes Demand Return of Native Scalps From Karl May Museum in Germany

Red Haircrow

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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lvicenti's picture
Submitted by lvicenti on
I'm glad that the media has finally shed light on the subject. I travelled abroad last summer and visited the "karl may museum"... which is a bunch of horse crap and stolen native artifacts, including my own tribal property which really made it personal. Jicarilla Apache. This delusional individual is in large part to blame for how contemporary society views first nations and has contributed many stereotypical lies that work against indian country. And to add to that, they have the nerve to steal our cultural property for their own personal benefit thinking that they're somehow honoring us...? #killpierrebricesavetheapache Repatriation is greatly needed in this! This disrespect must not be tolerated!

kopczyn's picture
Submitted by kopczyn on
Whatever is said about this museum, I grew up on Karl May's novel "Winnetou". It become part of my childhood and make me sensitive to issues of native people in general.

winnetouproductions's picture
Submitted by winnetouproductions on
I must comment on this since I have dealt with the original writings of Karl May, I am one of the owners of the English Publishing House of Karl Mays original work Nemsi Books and of Winnetou Productions which is making the new film Winnetou – The Beginning. What people need to understand is that Karl May would never ever condone what the Museum that bears his name is doing! Karl Mays own words he talked against this sort of thing and the genocide of the American Indians, it is plain in his Western stories. I urge people not to jump to conclusions about Karl May and blame him for the ignorant selfish acts of the people running this Museum in such a disgraceful manner just to try and make a quick buck are doing!!! It is they not Karl May who had no respect for the American Indians all you have to do is read his original stories and you will see for yourself this goes against everything Karl May stood for and wrote about. As a Native American myself, I would never get behind a writer who did not have the most respect for our people or our culture! Although I have never been to the Museum I have had dealings with them and will be speaking out against this to the Museum. I will not only demanding the return of these items and demanding not only an apology, but the resignation of whoever is in charge of this display in the Museum. Even if they are fakes, just to cause sensationalism in order to make a quick buck, someone must be held accountable! Either way, it’s disgraceful! I will personally joining the fight to have all American Indian items returned to their rightful owners, Karl May would have demanded this himself if he were here!

fallowfield's picture
Submitted by fallowfield on
The Karl May Museum contributed, and still does, to the continuity of misperception of Native American nations and persons in Germany. Their annual festival presented several fakes and flakes to the audience, one example being an individual named Xokonoshtletl with his dance group, who is also active as a plastic shame-on in Europe (German Wikipedia categorizes him as a „shaman“, along with Rolling Thunder, Vincent LaDuke, Carlos Castaneda etc., and German plastic shamans claim him as their teacher). He also poses as the leader of an indigenous civic rights movement. His last gig at the Karl May Festival seems to have been in 2008. Another guest that year was Tim Sikyea who is also posing as a 'shaman' in Europe. Such fakes will benefit largely from this approval by Karl May Festival, for one because they are presented as respectable to the audience who then takes them for the real deal. Both the Museum and the Festival contribute to a reconfirmation of stereotypes, and to the inability of the audience to tell facts from fiction and stereotype. By refusing to give back the scalps they keep, the Museum illustrates that they view indigenous nations and persons as items for display, but not as human beings. BTW, for this year's Festival, organizers plan to show animated movies of „Yakari“, originally a French cartoon series which present indigenous persons in a very stereotypical way.