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Barre Museum starts process of repatriation of sacred objects. Native leaders say they're all sacred.

The Barre Museum Association is located in the same building as the public library in Barre, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen
The Barre Museum Association is located in the same building as the public library in Barre, Massachusetts.

A museum in Barre, Massachusetts, said it has started the process of hiring an expert to evaluate its collection of objects from native tribes, as part of a repatriation process.

Sioux leaders believe the items in the tiny Barre Museum Association came off the bodies of their relatives who were killed in Wounded Knee South Dakota by the U.S. Cavalry in 1890.

Ann Meilus, president of the board of the Barre Museum Association, said it's hiring someone with knowledge of native objects to assess and provide information about the collection.

"If they're deemed to be a sacred artifact, the association has agreed to return the items," Meilus said.

Sacred - under NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Meilus said the museum plans to follow NAGPRA, "as best we can," even though, she said the museum doesn't receive federal funding so it's not required to follow the law.

Renee and Manny Iron Hawk from the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe in South Dakota visited the museum in April to ask that the items be repatriated. They said they consider the peace pipes, moccasins and other objects all sacred and that they should be returned.

Manny's grandfather was killed at Wounded Knee. And his grandmother survived.

Renee, the secretary of HAWK 1890, a survivor descendants society, said when she visited the museum this spring she recognized the symbols and beadwork that come from her family.

"To us, they're not antiques, they're not artifacts. They're belongings to our relatives," she said.

Ann Meilus said it could take years for the museum to complete the repatriation process.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.

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