A Denver collector’s Native American artifacts are up for sale. A tribal group says these cultural objects need to be returned.

by Samuel Pordengerg Mar 18, 2023 News
A Denver collector’s Native American artifacts are up for sale. A tribal group says these cultural objects need to be returned.

Prospective buyers at a Native American art sale in March will be offered a chance to take a trip around the globe.

Horn spoons and Totems from the Northwest coast, baskets from California and pottery from across the Southwest are some of the artifacts in the 10-day virtual auction.

Many of the objects are from a collection of Native American works amassed by a former University of Colorado professor.

A national Native American advocacy organization wants Bonhams to remove some of the pieces from the block because they are tribal artifacts. The organization said that the auction house refused to engage in a longstanding battle between tribes and people trying to cash in on their cultural works.

Shannon O'Loughlin, CEO of the Association on American Indian Affairs, said that the auctions refuse to work in productive ways with Native nations about the items they have for sale.

The Denver Post requested comment from Bonhams, but he didn't reply.

As institutions across the country face mounting pressure to return cultural items forcibly removed from Native lands, the association wants them to rethink their practices.

The history is long and sordid.

The mission of the Association on American Indian Affairs is to protect the sovereignty and preserve the culture of hundreds of indigenous tribes.

There is a long, sordid history of theft and loot of Native bodies and their burial objects from graves and other sensitive, sacred and cultural patrimony.

Professors used the remains of Native American people as research materials. There were funerary objects in the gallery. There were little consequences for amateur archaeologists or looters who dug up indigenous objects.

40 items in the Bonhams auction were flagged as potentially sensitive. Stone effigies, hide drums, pipe bowls, and other cultural objects are included in these works.

The trade in Native human remains, burial items and sacred and cultural patrimony is no longer a legitimate business according to the association. Businesses that trade in sensitive Native cultural heritage perpetuate racism and harm cultural and religious practices of Native people.

The association requested that the items be removed, but the auction house did not respond. She said that Bonhams left out important information so that they wouldn't be able to make reasonable claims to their items.

There are many objects on the association's list.

Taylor was an avid collector of Native American art, particularly from the American plains. The pieces in the upcoming auction include 19th-century Lakota pipe bags and beaded Arapaho hide pouches.

Details about Taylor's life and death were not immediately available. Information about his estate was not found by the Post.

The owner of the Native American Trading Company said that he had a great collection. Taylor played by the rules as he acquired more items throughout his life, according to the man who met him in the early '80s.

The person said it was addictive. People are interested in the art of indigenous cultures.

Linda Cook, owner of the David Cook Galleries in Denver, has sold Taylor items over the years.

Some of the items listed in the Bonhams auction are questionable.

He said that the dress was a girl's dress. I don't know if that's questionable to me. It shouldn't go back to the tribe.

There isn't much recourse.

Over the past several decades, both states and the U.S. Congress have passed laws to protect Native American cultural and sacred sites.

The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, enacted in 1990, has given tribes an avenue to reclaiming the remains of their ancestors and burial objects that have long filled galleries at America's top universities and museums.

Experts say that auctions are in a murkier area. The 1990 law refers to institutions that take federal funding and have legal control of the objects. Neither of these boxes are usually checked by auction houses.

Black-market sales of indigenous cultural pieces have been stopped by the FBI. The cases are hard to prove.

Jan Bernstein is a NAGPRA consultant based in Denver.

tribes have been trying to block the sale of cultural heritage for a long time.

There are related articles.

Ten years ago, the Hopi Indians of Arizona asked the federal government to stop an auction of 70 sacred masks in Paris. The U.S. government didn't have enough power to intervene. Two dozen of them were bought by a private foundation and returned to the tribe.

The director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office said that sacred items shouldn't have a commercial value.

An auction house in Canada removed a child's blood-stained tunic from an auction after it came to their attention that it was being sold as art.

The Association on American Indian Affairs has investigated 43 domestic and foreign auctions this year and found more than 1,600 objects that may have been stolen.

There is a bigger movement to shift out of the accepted idea that it is ok to sell indigenous items.

She said that they were trying to alert buyers to the fact that it wasn't a good investment. It isn't a good place to invest your money.

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