Event Title

Limitations of NAGPRA: The Mohegan Mask in the Penn Museum’s Collection

Location

King Building 239

Start Date

4-27-2018 3:00 PM

End Date

4-27-2018 4:20 PM

Abtract

This project examines a repatriation case surrounding a wooden mask in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology’s collection. Carved by Harold Tantaquidgeon of the Mohegan Tribe in the 1930s, the mask was collected by anthropologist Frank Speck for the Penn Museum at around the same time. In 1996, the Mohegan Tribe requested the return of the mask as a “sacred object,” filing a claim under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a federal law passed in 1990 that provides a legal framework for Native American groups in the United States to make claims for the return of cultural items held in museums that receive federal funding. The Penn Museum denied the claim, yet offered the mask to the Tribe on a long-term loan. Approaching the case through cultural property frameworks, I examine how the case surrounding the mask, settled outside of the legal parameters of NAGPRA, highlights the inadequacies of NAGPRA in addressing Native American claims for restitution. I argue that the agreement between the Penn Museum and the Mohegan Tribe provides an example of how the cultural history of objects might be addressed beyond fixed definitions of culture beholden to the nation-state, recognizing the mask as a Mohegan cultural item that emerged from a history of settler colonialism and Native American resistance, and takes on fluid meanings. More broadly, through this case study, I seek to address the central role nationalism and national boundaries play in problematizing contemporary cultural property debates.

Keywords:

cultural property, Native American studies, nationalism, United States, critical race studies, colonialism, settler colonialism, nation-state formation

Notes

Session V, Panel 15 - Educational | Models
Moderator: Daphne John, Associate Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Associate Professor of Sociology and Comparative American Studies

Major

Art History; East Asian Studies

Award

Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship

Advisor(s)

Bonnie Cheng, Art History; East Asian Studies

Project Mentor(s)

Bonnie Cheng, Art History
Erik Inglis, Art History

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Apr 27th, 3:00 PM Apr 27th, 4:20 PM

Limitations of NAGPRA: The Mohegan Mask in the Penn Museum’s Collection

King Building 239

This project examines a repatriation case surrounding a wooden mask in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology’s collection. Carved by Harold Tantaquidgeon of the Mohegan Tribe in the 1930s, the mask was collected by anthropologist Frank Speck for the Penn Museum at around the same time. In 1996, the Mohegan Tribe requested the return of the mask as a “sacred object,” filing a claim under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a federal law passed in 1990 that provides a legal framework for Native American groups in the United States to make claims for the return of cultural items held in museums that receive federal funding. The Penn Museum denied the claim, yet offered the mask to the Tribe on a long-term loan. Approaching the case through cultural property frameworks, I examine how the case surrounding the mask, settled outside of the legal parameters of NAGPRA, highlights the inadequacies of NAGPRA in addressing Native American claims for restitution. I argue that the agreement between the Penn Museum and the Mohegan Tribe provides an example of how the cultural history of objects might be addressed beyond fixed definitions of culture beholden to the nation-state, recognizing the mask as a Mohegan cultural item that emerged from a history of settler colonialism and Native American resistance, and takes on fluid meanings. More broadly, through this case study, I seek to address the central role nationalism and national boundaries play in problematizing contemporary cultural property debates.