Religion in Museums

When museums and religion collide

Dispute over classification of Apache artefacts

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Four Apache tribes are in dispute with the American Museum of Natural History (New York) over whether artefacts that the Museum agreed to repatriate should be termed ‘cultural’ or ‘sacred’.

The New York Times‘ Tom Mashberg writes:

At first glance, the dispute would seem to hinge on semantics: the museum is prepared to refer to the objects, many more than a century old, as “cultural items,” while the Apaches insist that they be designated as “sacred” and “items of cultural patrimony,” legal classifications set out under federal law. The Apaches say this is hardly a case of being fussy. They say the items are imbued with their religion’s holy beings, that tribal elders attribute problems like alcoholism and unemployment on reservations to their unsettled spirits, and that the museum’s position is insulting to them and their deities.

“This is them telling us they know more about Apache culture than the Apaches,” said Vincent Randall, cultural preservation director with the Yavapai-Apache Nation in Arizona, one of four Apache tribes allied in the dispute.

Read the full article here

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