Hopi Tribe Press Release: Mesa Verde Repatriation Agreement

Hopi Tribe Celebrates Mesa Verde Repatriation Agreement

For Immediate Release October 3, 2019

Kykotsmovi, Ariz. – On Wednesday, during a press conference between President Trump and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto it was announced that Finland had agreed to return Native American remains that had been excavated and taken from the Southwestern United States to northern Europe in 1891 by Scholar Gustaf Nordenskjold.

The Hopi People are thankful to everyone involved in ensuring our ancestors are returned to their rightful home, and are afforded the respect all human people deserve – being allowed to rest in peace. Most importantly, this is a Pueblo matter and we ask the international and domestic audiences to respect the privacy of those involved and allow us to bring our ancestors home peacefully and without spectacle.

Hopi Vice Chairman Clark W. Tenakhongva.

The history of this case played an important role in swaying public perception about the importance of protecting cultural heritage resources that ultimately led to the 1906 Antiquities Act and the establishment of Mesa Verde National Park, as Nordenskjold, who was of Finnish and Swedish descent, also took hundreds of artifacts from the Mesa Verde region (which the Hopi people refer to as Tawtoykya, or Place of the Songs) of Colorado in 1891 and was arrested for attempting to export these remains and artifacts out of the country. He was later released and the collection shipped to Stockholm Sweden as no U.S. laws at the time prohibited such action.

Nordenskjold then sold the collection to a Finnish doctor who later bequeathed the collection to the state of Finland following his death, and the collection was ultimately placed in The National Museum of Finland in Helsinki. The museum took an inventory of the collection following inquiries by the Hopi Tribe’s Cultural Preservation Office who in 2016, along with other Hopi consultants, led efforts to identify the human remains and funerary objects in the collection.

This inventory, which was completed in June of 2018, determined that the collection contained 600 items, including the remains of 20 individuals and 28 funerary objects. In July of that same year, the United States State Department sponsored an International Visitors Leadership Program
to build relationships between Native American Communities and European Museums. As part of this program Heli Lahdentausta, Curator of the Nation Museum of Finland, met with Representatives from Hopi and visited other cultural institutions in New Mexico. Following this visit the Finnish government notified the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki that it would consider an official request for repatriation of human remains and funerary objects. The U.S. request was made in fall 2018, followed by the unanimous passage of a resolution by the Hopi Tribal Council in July 2019 in support of the repatriation efforts.

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