Alabama museum to return art to 2 Alaskan tribes

Published 6:05 am Monday, June 21, 2021

A city-owned museum will return works of art to two Alaskan Native American tribes that requested the items back in 2017, decades after they were acquired for collections.

A vote by the Birmingham City Council cleared the way for the Birmingham Museum of Art to return items to the Tlingit and Haida tribes, WBHM reported.

The groups requested the return of pieces under a 1990 law that requires institutions which receive federal funds to return Native American cultural items to the respective tribes. The director of the museum, Graham C. Boettcher, told the council that the museum no longer had a “a moral, ethical or legal claim under federal law” to the art.

The city ordinance allowing the museum to send pieces back to the Native American groups will apply to future claims, including global collections where items may not have been brought into the United States legally, Boettcher said.

“So, we want to be able to operate ethically and in accordance with all laws,” he said.

The museum, founded in 1951, has extensive collections of Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian, and Native American art, according to its website.

The museum has several Tlingit items as part of its collection including several spoons, baskets and bentwood boxes. Nearly all of them were purchased by the museum in 1956.

The museum also lists three works by Haida artists, including two screen prints by Freida Deising and a Reg Davidson totem pole, all of which were acquired in 1994.

Members of the Haida Nation and the Tlingit Nation live in southeastern Alaska. A central tribal government represents more than 32,000 Tlingit and Haida members, according to the groups’ website.