University returned 1,500 artifacts to Oneida Indian Nation

Over 1500 items were returned to the Oneida Indian Nation.

By Michael Hill
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and Turtle Island News

Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter returned to the Oneida Indian Nation.

Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter returned to the Oneida Indian Nation.

With a tearful apology and promises it won’t happen again the largest single repatriation of Indigenous culturally significant items were returned to the Oneida Indian Nation.
The emotional ceremony took place at the Colgate Unverity chapel house that sits on Oneida’s ancestral territory Nov., 9, 2022.
“This moment was year in the making, with countless hours of painstaking investigation, and collaboration between members of the nation and Colgate staff,” Colgate University president Brian Casey told the small gathering.
It was the fifth repatriation since 1995 when the remains of seven ancestors were returned to the Oneida Nation for burial. In 2002 two more remains were repatriated, in 2019 a sacred mask and in 2020 six more remains were returned.

Colgate University president   Brian Casey gives tearful apology representative Ray Halbritter returned to the Oneida Indian Nation.

Colgate University president Brian Casey gives tearful apology representative Ray Halbritter returned to the Oneida Indian Nation.

In a sombre voice Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter said “We are not simply recovering the items that were interred with our ancestors. We are regaining nothing less than the history of our people and our story in this region.”
Colgate acquired the collection in 1959. A collection, university president Brian Casey said “never should have been acquired.”
The collection of more than 1,500 items once buried with ancestral remains, included pendants, pots, bells and turtle shell rattles, some dating back 400 years.
The “funerary objects’’ were purchased in 1959 from the family of an amateur archaeologist who
collected them from sites in upstate New York and have been housed at the university’s Longyear Museum of Anthropology.
The repatriation was made possible through the use of a Native American Grave and Protection Act grant.
In a tearful emotional voice University President Brian Casey said the university “will continue to work carefully through the process of cataloging the history of its collections and the stories and meaning of the objects in them.”
Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter spoke of promises that were made.
“Mutual promises were made. Our people told the colonists at the time the outcome of the revolutionary war was uncertain that our people would enjoy the fruits of victory with the colonists,” he said and reminded them “our people were buried along side them.”
Halbritter did not have sympathy for institutions still housing Indigenous remains and objects”
“For decades too many museums and other educational and cultural institutions followed indefensible practices regarding the ancestrial remains and cultural artifacts of native americans under the belief that preserving history is of the ultimate importance without questioning the means of doing so.”
He said earlier the repatriation was needed.

Portions of pottery were returned.

Portions of pottery were returned.

“It’s making things right again. It’s correcting a rong,’’ Halbritter said.
“The acquisition of these items, it’s quite an indefensible practice. They’ve been absent. They’re not where they should be … on the land back with our people.’’
Halbritter said this is one of the largest single repatriations in the state and praised the cooperation
from Colgate, which began a series of transfers in 1995 with the return of seven sets of remains and funerary objects.
The 1,520 returned items are called funerary objects because it’s reasonably believed they were placed with individual human remains either at the time of death or later.
The items being returned to the Oneidas also include glass beads, ceramic pottery, knives, harpoons and a stone pipe.
They were collected by Herbert Bigford Sr. during excavations of eight sites between 1924 and 1957, according to repatriation records Colgate filed with the federal government.
A man by that name was the treasurer in 1952 for the local Chenango Archeology Society, whose members went on “digging tours’’each summer and met in each other’s homes for programs on Native American archaeology, according to a story in the Sunday Press of Binghamton on the society’s plans for school presentations.
Some of the repatriated items date as far back as 1600. And more than 900 of the items came from a single excavation site in Stockbridge, south of the Oneida’s current reservation in central New York. That includes 286 Wampum, 106 shell beads, 179 glass beads and 68 wolf teeth, according to records.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires federally funded institutions, such as universities, to return remains and cultural items.
Nationwide, some 870,000 Native American artifacts, including nearly 110,000 human remains, that should be returned to tribes under federal law are still in the possession of colleges, museums and other institutions, according to a recent Associated Press review of data maintained by the National Park Service.
Colgate officials said the ongoing repatriations involving the university are a step toward repairing relationships with Native American communities.
“This is important work, and it will continue until we are confident that all sacred items that can be traced back to their rightful owners are returned,’’ Colgate President Brian W. Casey said in a statement.
Some of the items being returned by Colgate had been on display or used for teaching in the past, though the university placed restrictions on their use for those purposes starting in 1994.
Representative of the Oneidas, Colgate and the museum will attend the repatriation ceremony Wednesday at the university.
The items will be safely stored while the Oneidas decide what to do them, whether it’s returning them
to the earth or some other option, Halbritter said.
“Our ceremonies to repatriate these items will help ensure that our story is going to be told in our own voices,’’ Halbritter said, “and for generations to come.’’
-AP Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed.

Add Your Voice

Is there more to this story? We'd like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Contribute your voice on our contribute page.

Leave a Reply