Even though she didn’t live to see it, Tuesday would have been a happy day for Onondaga Nation clan mother Dorothy Webster. She walked on in 2010, but her actions started the gears in motion to get sacred artifacts returned to her nation from the Onondaga Historical Association (OHA) in Syracuse, New York.
She’s the one who told OHA executive director Gregg Tripoli a few years ago, “You have something that belongs to us,” reported The Post-Standard.
That something consisted of the remains of several Indians, as well as ceremonial masks and a wampum belt. Because it isn’t federally funded the OHA isn’t subject to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which requires Native American cultural items be returned.
But Tripoli said “these things didn’t belong to us,” and brought the matter before the OHA board of directors, which decided to return the bones and all the artifacts to the Onondaga Nation, reported The Post-Standard.
Some of the items were returned this spring, the rest were returned June 5 at the OHA museum on Montgomery Street in Syracuse.
Sid Hill, an Onondaga who serves as tadadaho—spiritual leader—of the Six Nations thinks OHA could start a national precedent.
“Hopefully, it will send a message to other people to do the right thing,” he told The Post-Standard. “How much more sacred can it get than to want your ancestors’ bones to be at rest? We want the ones we put to rest to have a good journey; all of our teaching about the cycle of life is surrounded by that.”
The OHA is a local historical society and the return of Native artifacts by such an organization is something Elizabeth Sackler, founder of the American Indian Ritual Object Repatriation Foundation in New York City, called “unusual.” She told The Post-Standard that the group’s decision “is wonderful and speaks to increased awareness over the past 20 years about the importance of raising our ‘First People’s’ culture. It’s a fundamental right to have back items of significance to your present, and therefore to your future.”