PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –– The University of Pennsylvania is in a tug-of-war with a group of native Alaskans over some tribal artifacts. A village clan wants them back, and final possession of the objects could be decided in court.
Most of the items were purchased by an Alaskan clan member in 1924, who became an assistant curator of Penn’s Museum of Anthropology, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Anchorage Daily News.
The newspapers say that Louis Shotridge, a Tlingit man from the Alaskan town of Klukwan, had been on an expedition financed by Philadelphia department store founder John Wanamaker.
Now, his Hoonah T’akdeintaan clan wants more than 40 objects — including a shaman’s owl mask, ceremonial horns, and hide robes — returned to the Tlingit people of Southeast Alaska.
A federal advisory committee agrees with the clan, based on a 20-year-old federal law under which native peoples can reclaim cultural objects held by museums.
A Penn spokeswoman says the university hopes it can resolve the dispute with the claimants.
The Hoonah clan reportedly says it “has the right of possession,” and will sue in federal court if Penn does not repatriate the objects.
Reported by Steve Tawa, KYW Newsradio 1060.