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  • A confession:

  • I am an archaeologist and a museum curator,

  • but a paradoxical one.

  • For my museum, I collect things,

  • but I also return things back to where they came from.

  • I love museums because they're social and educational,

  • but I'm most drawn to them because of the magic of objects:

  • a one-million-year-old hand axe,

  • a totem pole, an impressionist painting

  • all take us beyond our own imaginations.

  • In museums, we pause to muse, to gaze upon our human empire of things

  • in meditation and wonder.

  • I understand why US museums alone

  • host more than 850 million visits each year.

  • Yet, in recent years, museums have become a battleground.

  • Communities around the world don't want to see their culture

  • in distant institutions which they have no control over.

  • They want to see their cultural treasures

  • repatriated, returned to their places of origin.

  • Greece seeks the return of the Parthenon Marbles,

  • a collection of classical sculptures held by the British Museum.

  • Egypt demands antiquities from Germany.

  • New Zealand's Maori want to see returned

  • ancestral tattooed heads from museums everywhere.

  • Yet these claims pale in comparison to those made by Native Americans.

  • Already, US museums have returned more than one million artifacts

  • and 50,000 sets of Native American skeletons.

  • To illustrate what's at stake, let's start with the War Gods.

  • This is a wood carving

  • made by members of the Zuni tribe in New Mexico.

  • In the 1880s, anthropologists began to collect them

  • as evidence of American Indian religion.

  • They came to be seen as beautiful,

  • the precursor to the stark sculptures of Picasso and Paul Klee,

  • helping to usher in the modern art movement.

  • From one viewpoint, the museum did exactly as it's supposed to

  • with the War God.

  • It helped introduce a little-known art form

  • for the world to appreciate.

  • But from another point of view,

  • the museum had committed a terrible crime of cultural violence.

  • For Zunis, the War God is not a piece of art,

  • it is not even a thing.

  • It is a being.

  • For Zunis, every year,

  • priests ritually carve new War Gods,

  • the Ahayu:da,

  • breathing life into them in a long ceremony.

  • They are placed on sacred shrines

  • where they live to protect the Zuni people

  • and keep the universe in balance.

  • No one can own or sell a War God.

  • They belong only to the earth.

  • And so Zunis want them back from museums

  • so they can go to their shrine homes

  • to fulfill their spiritual purpose.

  • What is a curator to do?

  • I believe that the War Gods should be returned.

  • This might be a startling answer.

  • After all, my conclusion contradicts the refrain

  • of the world's most famous archaeologist:

  • "That belongs in a museum!"

  • (Laughter)

  • is what Indiana Jones said, not just to drive movie plots,

  • but to drive home the unquestionable good of museums for society.

  • I did not come to my view easily.

  • I grew up in Tucson, Arizona,

  • and fell in love with the Sonoran Desert's past.

  • I was amazed that beneath the city's bland strip malls

  • was 12,000 years of history just waiting to be discovered.

  • When I was 16 years old, I started taking archaeology classes

  • and going out on digs.

  • A high school teacher of mine even helped me set up my own laboratory

  • to study animal bones.

  • But in college,

  • I came to learn that my future career had a dark history.

  • Starting in the 1860s,

  • Native American skeletons became a tool for science,

  • collected in the thousands

  • to prove new theories of social and racial hierarchies.

  • Native American human remains were plundered from graves,

  • even taken fresh from battlefields.

  • When archaeologists came across white graves,

  • the skeleton was often quickly reburied,

  • while Native bones were deposited as specimens on museum shelves.

  • In the wake of war, stolen land, boarding schools,

  • laws banning religion,

  • anthropologists collected sacred objects

  • in the belief that Native peoples were on the cusp of extinction.

  • You can call it racism or colonialism, but the labels don't matter

  • as much as the fact that over the last century,

  • Native American rights and culture were taken from them.

  • In 1990, after years of Native protests,

  • the US government, through the US Congress,

  • finally passed a law that allowed Native Americans to reclaim

  • cultural items, sacred objects and human remains from museums.

  • Many archaeologists were panicked.

  • For scientists,

  • it can be hard to fully grasp how a piece of wood can be a living god

  • or how spirits surround bones.

  • And they knew that modern science, especially with DNA,

  • can provide luminous insights into the past.

  • As the anthropologist Frank Norwick declared,

  • "We are doing important work that benefits all of mankind.

  • We are not returning anything to anyone."

  • As a college student, all of this was an enigma

  • that was hard to decipher.

  • Why did Native Americans want their heritage back

  • from the very places preserving it?

  • And how could scientists spend their entire lives

  • studying dead Indians

  • but seem to care so little about living ones?

  • I graduated but wasn't sure what to do next,

  • so I traveled.

  • One day, in South Africa,

  • I visited Nelson Mandela's former prison cell on Robben Island.

  • I had an epiphany.

  • Here was a man who helped a country bridge vast divides

  • to seek, however imperfectly, reconciliation.

  • I'm no Mandela, but I ask myself:

  • Could I, too, plant seeds of hope in the ruins of the past?

  • In 2007, I was hired as a curator

  • at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

  • Our team agreed that unlike many other institutions,

  • we needed to proactively confront the legacy of museum collecting.

  • We started with the skeletons in our closet,

  • 100 of them.

  • After months and then years, we met with dozens of tribes

  • to figure out how to get these remains home.

  • And this is hard work.

  • It involves negotiating who will receive the remains,

  • how to respectfully transfer them,

  • where will they go.

  • Native American leaders become undertakers,

  • planning funerals for dead relatives they had never wanted unearthed.

  • A decade later, the Denver Museum and our Native partners

  • have reburied nearly all of the human remains in the collection.

  • We have returned hundreds of sacred objects.

  • But I've come to see that these battles are endless.

  • Repatriation is now a permanent feature of the museum world.

  • Hundreds of tribes are waiting their turn.

  • There are always more museums with more stuff.

  • Every catalogued War God in an American public museum

  • has now been returned – 106, so far

  • but there are more beyond the reach of US law,

  • in private collections and outside our borders.

  • In 2014, I had the chance to travel with a respected religious leader

  • from the Zuni tribe named Octavius Seowtewa

  • to visit five museums in Europe with War Gods.

  • At the Ethnological Museum of Berlin,

  • we saw a War God with a history of dubious care.

  • An overly enthusiastic curator had added chicken feathers to it.

  • Its necklace had once been stolen.

  • At the Musée du quai Branly in Paris,

  • an official told us that the War God there is now state property

  • with no provisions for repatriation.

  • He insisted that the War God no longer served Zunis

  • but museum visitors.

  • He said, "We give all of the objects to the world."

  • At the British Museum,

  • we were warned that the Zuni case would establish a dangerous precedent

  • for bigger disputes,

  • such as the Parthenon Marbles, claimed by Greece.

  • After visiting the five museums,

  • Octavius returned home to his people empty-handed.

  • He later told me,

  • "It hurts my heart to see the Ahayu:da so far away.

  • They all belong together.

  • It's like a family member that's missing from a family dinner.

  • When one is gone, their strength is broken."

  • I wish that my colleagues in Europe and beyond

  • could see that the War Gods do not represent the end of museums

  • but the chance for a new beginning.

  • When you walk the halls of a museum,

  • you're likely just seeing about one percent

  • of the total collections.

  • The rest is in storage.

  • Even after returning 500 cultural items and skeletons,

  • my museum still retains 99.999 percent of its total collections.

  • Though we no longer have War Gods,

  • we have Zuni traditional pottery,

  • jewelry, tools, clothing and arts.

  • And even more precious than these objects

  • are the relationships that we formed with Native Americans

  • through the process of repatriation.

  • Now, we can ask Zunis to share their culture with us.

  • Not long ago, I had the chance to visit the returned War Gods.

  • A shrine sits up high atop a mesa overlooking beautiful Zuni homeland.

  • The shrine is enclosed by a roofless stone building

  • threaded at the top with barbed wire

  • to ensure that they're not stolen again.

  • And there they are, inside,

  • the Ahayu:da,

  • 106 War Gods amid offerings of turquoise, cornmeal, shell,

  • even T-shirts ...

  • a modern gift to ancient beings.

  • And standing there,

  • I got a glimpse at the War Gods' true purpose in the world.

  • And it occurred to me then

  • that we do not get to choose the histories that we inherit.

  • Museum curators today did not pillage ancient graves

  • or steal spiritual objects,

  • but we can accept responsibility for correcting past mistakes.

  • We can help restore dignity,

  • hope and humanity to Native Americans,

  • the very people who were once the voiceless objects of our curiosity.

  • And this doesn't even require us to fully understand others' beliefs,

  • only that we respect them.

  • Museums are temples to things past.

  • Now they must also become places for living cultures.

  • As I turned to walk away from the shrine,

  • I drank in the warm summer air,

  • and I watched an eagle turn lazy circles high above.

  • I thought of the Zunis,

  • whose offerings ensure that their culture is not dead and gone

  • but alive and well,

  • and I could think of no better place for the War Gods to be.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

A confession:

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B1 US TED museum war native returned native american

【TED】Chip Colwell: Why museums are returning cultural treasures (Why museums are returning cultural treasures | Chip Colwell)

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    林宜悉 posted on 2018/10/11
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