University of Pennsylvania and Alaska Native artifacts

A new story out of Alaska has a unique connection to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

A dispute is brewing between the University of Pennsylvania and the Alaskan Hoonah T’akdeontaan Indian Tribe over a collection of Native American artifacts. According to the University records, the artifacts memorialize the ancestors of the Hoonah T’akdeontaan who were killed in a tidal wave, and they were allegedly purchased from the tribe in the 1920’s by Louis Shortridge, an Alaskan working for the University.

The artifacts were believed to be lost to the Tribe forever until recently when representatives of the Hoonah T’akdeontaan petitioned a Federal review committee to ask Penn to return the artifacts under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Under this law, which was enacted in 1990, federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding are required by law to return Native American cultural items and human remains to their respective peoples. According to reports, the Hoonah T’akdeontaan claimed that they did not give their consent to the sale of the artifacts to the University and the artifacts were taken against the wishes of their people.

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