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Harvard Asked to Return Standing Bear's Tomahawk

Oklahoma lawyer, a descendant, makes the request
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 7, 2021 3:35 PM CDT

(Newser) – An Oklahoma lawyer who's a descendant of Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe has called on a Harvard University museum to return a relic it has on display, arguing that it lacks a moral right to possess it. "Standing Bear's tomahawk in your possession is an item of patrimony," Brett Chapman wrote to the museum in an email, the Guardian reports. "You must understand that you will only benefit by repatriating it." The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology answered with what Chapman considers a brush-off; he tweeted the response and suggestion of dialogue. Chapman has hope because the museum, after being accused of breaking the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, recently apologized for causing pain when it refused to return other Native American objects.

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Standing Bear was one of the first Native Americans to be accorded civil rights under US law, after suing, per the Hill. He was arrested in 1879 after walking off the government reservation in Oklahoma, on his way to bury his son. Standing Bear won a milestone case declaring an Indian as a person and gave the tomahawk to one of his pro bono lawyers in gratitude. If there had been no forced removal of the tribes, Chapman said, Standing Bear wouldn't have given his lawyer the tomahawk, which eventually found its way to the museum. "You’re holding something that belonged to this man who did something great," Chapman told the museum, which issued no comment. "And we’re still here today and we can still have a physical touch with that past." (Read more Native Americans stories.)

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