The Repatriation of Caddo Nation Pottery in the UAG

 

The Repatriation of Caddo Nation Pottery in the UAG

Repatriating the objects of various Native American tribes across the United States has been an ongoing process for many museums, including the University Art Gallery (UAG) in Pittsburgh. These objects came in UAG possessions in 1938 from one of the professors from the University of Pittsburgh, Carl Engelder, who did an excavation of a Caddo tomb in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which he later donated these objects to university around 1998.  

With this post, I hope to bring to light not only the necessity of repatriation, but also the struggles both the tribes and the museums are facing. The process of giving back these objects takes a lot of time and effort in order to find proper space and transportation. The Caddo Nation consist of various tribes who live around the Red River in southwest Arkansas, northwest Louisiana, eastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas from as early as 2500 years ago. Due to the impact of colonial forces, the Caddo were forcibly removed to Oklahoma in 1859. Prior to the colonialism of the Europeans, they were known for their large trade network of agriculture, meat, and specifically their beautiful ceramics and pottery. This pottery while traded was also a significant grave good marking the elites and the heritage of that person[1]

In an interview by Bobby Gonzalez and Robert Cast, one of the Caddo elders talks about the repatriation of these grave elements and says that, “They do not want to ever rebury or improperly handle some other tribal Nation’s human remains or items that were not Caddo,” because something bad could happen to the person doing the ceremony and the people involved with the ceremony.[2] This in turn speaks to how no one should be directly reburying the grave goods that are not Caddo, and also has to be sure of its Caddo heritage. Their burial is not about what the archaeological record says, but is about the beliefs and knowledge that the Caddo themselves know about how their ceremonies are conducted.[3] 

According to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), federal law demands, “...for the repatriation and disposition of certain Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.” In order to do this museums must consult the Native tribes for protection and exportation of the objects, and other compliance laws, review committees, enforcements policies, and grants to help the process.[4] Although the UAG remains committed to these goals, the methods of repatriation can sometimes be lengthy and challenging. The UAG has now twice reached out to the Caddo Nation to return their property. In 2008, they were able to find a intermediate to help them reach out to the Caddo, however there was no emailed answer and no follow-up from the museum until 2015. In 2015, there were more conversations between the museum coordinator and one of the Caddo representatives, but due to strife within the tribe the repatriation of these objects could not be done.  

While action should be taken soon in order to check on the state of the Caddo and the repatriation of the pottery the UAG has, there are many factors in place that make this difficult. The importance of these objects remains, and therefore the protection of this pottery comes first as they eventually find their way back to the Caddo.  

[1] Read further about the Caddo Nation heritage in: Girard, Jeffrey S. (2018) The Caddos and Their Ancestors: Archaeology and the Native People of Northwest Louisiana. and Perttula, Timothy K., and Chester P. Walker. (2012) The Archaeology of the Caddo. 

[2] Gonzalez, Bobby, Robert Cast, Timothy K. Perttula, and Bo Nelson. 2005: 7 

[3] Gonzalez, Bobby, Robert Cast, Timothy K. Perttula, and Bo Nelson 2005: 57 

[4] Read further information on repatriation laws here: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nagpra/index.htm 

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