Restitution to Alaska Natives

News from 05/16/2018

Ethnological Museum returns grave goods to indigenous peoples from Southwestern Alaska and plans further co-operation with Chugach Alaska Corporation.

SPK-Präsident Parzinger und John Johnson von der Chugach Alaska Corporation
SPK-Präsident Parzinger und John Johnson von der Chugach Alaska Corporation © SPK/ Zahn

On May 16, Hermann Parzinger, president of Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK, Prussian Cultural heritage Foundation), handed over nine objects from the Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Ethnological Museum of the National Museums in Berlin) to John Johnson, representative of the Chugach Alaska Corporation. It was the first restitution from this museum to a community of origin. The restitution, approved by SPK’s foundation council in December 2017, is one step towards a cooperation of the Ethnologisches Museum with native tribes of the Chugach region in southwestern Alaska.

Hermann Parzinger, SPK's President, stated: "At the time, these objects were taken without the consent of the Alaska Natives and were therefore removed unlawfully from the graves of their deceased, so they do not belong in our museums. I am particularly pleased that this repatriation does not stand at the end of a collaboration, but that quite on the contrary we will intensify the exchange with the Chugach Alaska Corporation in a co-operation."

John F.C. Johnson, Vice President of Cultural Resources, Chugach Alas-ka Corporation, said: “Many museums have feared that repatriation of cultural items was a loss of knowledge. However it became clear that these actions resulted in greater understanding of the objects and a better working relationship with cultures that they are trying to preserve. The Chugach people are very excited and honored to work with the Staatliche Museum in Berlin on various cultural exchanges in the future. I am proud and very grateful for all the efforts that were made to help make this dream a reality.”

In 2015, a delegation from the Chugach Alaska Corporation visited the Ethnologisches Museum for the first time, with the aim of initiating cooperation on future projects. The items which now were restituted are grave goods brought to Berlin by Johan Adrian Jacobsen in the 1880s. Jacobsen had traveled and collected along the American northwest coast and Alaska on behalf of the Königliches Museum für Völkerkunde (Royal Museum of Ethnology), which was the forerunner of the Ethnologisches Museum. In the present case, all the indications are that the objects were obtained through grave robbery and not by an approved archaeological excavation. In view of these facts, it was decided to return the objects, in line with SPK’s general approach to its non-European collections and the research of their provenances

Besides Parzinger and Johnson, at the Handing Over Ceremony spoke Christina Haak, Deputy Director General, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Lars-Christian Koch, Director for the Collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in the Humboldt Forum and Monika Zessnik, Curator of the North America Collection, Ethnologisches Museum.

Links for Additional Information

To overview