By Julie Ruhl, Museum Collections Assistant
As the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s new girl on the block (I’ve been working here less than four months) I have been learning every day about issues impacting the Tribe. NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) is one of those issues. Domonique deBeaubien, the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) Collections Manager, who deals with this federal code every day, has this to say:
The current state of NAGPRA is varied across the US, with some institutions ready and willing to do the right thing, with others lagging behind the curve. The Smithsonian however, doesn’t fall under NAGPRA. Their repatriation policy is guided by the NMAI Act, which requires very little of Smithsonian Museums with regards to repatriation procedures, and is well behind nationally accepted museum best practices. The Smithsonian’s lack of Native inclusivity in their repatriation process is rooted in the inherent colonialism of academia, which is something we are fighting to change.
The following article is very relevant right now. It looks more critically at the African American Museum, but it certainly can be applied here: https://tinyurl.com/yxhlar2s
The Museum has recently been called upon to work with the THPO to assert and document the Seminole Tribe’s true history. Seminoles and their ancestors have inhabited Florida for thousands of years, not for only the last 150 years as written in most history books. We recently utilized our archival collection to further this research and to provide objective information pertaining to this subject. We discovered key pieces of information and provided them to a Smithsonian representative to further validate the evidence of the Seminole’s longstanding Florida roots. This information, along with oral histories and other academic work, is being taken back to the Smithsonian Institution to support our continuing efforts to have the Tribe’s ancestors returned home.
According to Mary Beth Rosebrough, Research Coordinator for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum:
This is the time when the Seminole Tribe of Florida is re-writing history, setting aside what has been written in schoolbooks and perpetuated by the media. American military history tells the story of three Seminole Wars. To the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the descendants of those that evaded capture and removal, it was one long War – 40-plus years of turmoil and harassment and conflict. The Seminole Tribe of Florida is also proclaiming its ancestry, not just as people who migrated from northern states, but as descendants of those earlier tribes known to archaeologists as the Calusa, the Apalachee, the Tequesta, etc. Both of these changes are critical to a new understanding that Tribal history belongs to those who lived it yet deserves to be universally heard.
In helping the Seminole Tribe of Florida bring their ancestors home and in helping to re-write history, I am fortunate every day to be involved in something bigger than myself.