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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary

Assessment of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy Request to the National Museum of Natural History to Repatriate Two Wampum Items

Region: Northeast
Associated Cultures: Iroquois, Onondaga

In compliance with the policy guidelines established for repatriation at the National Museum of Natural History, this report provides an assessment of a request for the return of two cultural items by the Iroquois Confederacy at Six Nations Reserve, Grand River, Ontario, Canada.

Evaluation of information concerning these objects was initiated in January, 1995, in response to a request from Chief Leon "Thadodaho" Shenandoah of the Onondaga Nation in New York presented to the Repatriation Office on March 15, 1994. This request was made on behalf of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) Council at Grand River.

The requested objects are two wampum strings. These are the mace of the Confederacy (E391948) and a set of 15 "Requickening" strings (E391949). The repatriation of the mace was requested as an object of cultural patrimony, and the Requickening strings were requested as a sacred object. These items were acquired from the Six Nations Reserve at Grand River in 1928 and 1929 by J.N.B. Hewitt, an ethnologist in the employ of the Bureau of American Ethnology.

The Iroquois Confederacy traces its beginning to before the first contact with Europeans (circa 1630). The Confederacy originated as a compact among five Iroquois nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca) residing in upstate New York. The Tuscaroras were adopted into the Confederacy in 1722, making six member nations, and numerous other tribal groups became associated with the Confederacy in the subsequent years. Following the American Revolution, during which some tribal members sided with the British, the Confederacy split into two groups, each with its own federal Council; the Confederacy wampum was divided between them. The loyalists moved from New York to the Six Nations Reserve at Grand River, a reservation in Canada which the Crown established for their use. The objects which are evaluated in this report were acquired from descendants of this group.

J.N.B. Hewitt, who was part Tuscarora, carried out fieldwork among the Iroquois on behalf of the Bureau of American Ethnology over a period of about 40-45 years, until his death in 1936. His research on the Six Nations Reserve was initiated before the turn of the century. He purchased these wampum items from individuals on the Six Nations Reserve in the course of this work for the BAE in 1928 and 1929, but a clear record of the circumstances of their acquisition does not survive. They were transferred to the U.S. National Museum (now the NMNH) in 1952.

Based on the ethnohistoric and ethnographic information available on Iroquois culture and traditions, particularly with regard to the founding and operation of the Confederacy Council, the mace is considered to be a culturally meaningful object that fits the definition of "object of cultural patrimony" as defined in NAGPRA. The mace is an object that belonged to the Confederacy Council and symbolically represented the member nations of the Confederacy. It was used to open and close meetings of the federal Council and it was displayed during the meeting to signify that "the council fire was lit" and the nations were meeting together.

Based on the ethnohistoric and ethnographic information available on Iroquois culture and traditions, particularly with regard to the founding of the Confederacy and the ceremonial practices of the Condolence or Mourning Council, the set of Requickening strings is considered an object that fits the definition of "sacred object" as defined in NAGPRA. These strings belonged to the Cayuga nation or the moiety of nations of which they are a part and were used in the Condolence ritual of Requickening wherein one moiety condoles and restores the well-being of the mourning side suffering the effects of grief over the death of a chief. The available information indicates that the Requickening ritual is essentially religious in nature and that it is the central rite in a series of ceremonies performed in the Condolence Council. These ceremonies are concerned with the restoration and preservation of the Confederacy Council and, thereby, with the perpetuation of the Confederacy. Recent ethnographic information about the Six Nations Reserve indicates that the ceremony for condolence and installation of chiefs is being revived.

The report recommended that the Onondaga Nation in New York, as representative of the Confederacy Council at Six Nations Reserve on Grand River, be notified about the results of this assessment and consulted about their wishes regarding the disposition of these items.

Repatriation Update
These two wampum strings were repatriated to the Onondaga Nation of New York in 1997.

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