Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Glasgow City Council


  Glasgow City Council has in the past 10 years received five repatriation requests:

    1.  Australian Aboriginal Human Remains;

    2.  Five objects said to be from the Massacre of Wounded Knee;

    3.  A beaded waistcoat said to belong to Rain-in-the-Face, a Lakota Warrior;

    4.  Human remains dating from the 18th century, found in 1932 in Greenhead Moss, Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire; and

    5.  Benin Bronzes and Ivories.

  The first two of these have been fully processed, leading in both cases to objects being returned. The return of the Aboriginal human remains was not unusual, and followed precedents set by other museums. The process devised to review the repatriation request from the Wounded Knee Survivors Association has been described as a model of good practice. This report briefly sets out the background to the five requests that have been received, traces the evolution and operation of that procedure, and gives an update on the current position on the remaining requests.


2.1  Australian Aboriginal Human Remains

2.1.1  Historical Background

  In 1886 Glasgow Museums purchased from a James Kerr two almost complete skulls from North Queensland. In 1889 A James Smith presented three fragments of human skulls, from a cave from near Mount Morgan in Queensland, Australia.

2.1.2  Request for Return

  In June 1990 the museum was contacted by Australian Aborigine Rights activist Mr Michael Mansell, who asked if there were any Australian Aboriginal human remains in the collection and if there were, whether we would return them. This was followed by a visit from June Lesley Fogarty, Director of the Aboriginal Arts Unit, and by Mr Mansell. The case for return was based on the Aborigine belief that where human remains are disturbed and removed, the perpetual chain of reincarnation from the spirit wells of specific groups is disrupted. "The dead must be returned to Mother Earth where the spirit becomes one with the land and the people themselves" (Letter from June Lesley, 18 July 1990). The formal request came from Douglas McClelland, Australian High Commissioner.

2.1.3  Response of the Museum and the Council

  Museum staff recommended to Committee that the remains be returned on the grounds that:

    —  the museum had to respect different cultures' attitudes to the use and preservation of human remains, and burial was essential to Australian aboriginal beliefs;

    —  the remains had never been and probably never would be, useful for scientific analysis (no institution had ever asked to examine them);

    —  the remains had almost certainly been removed without permission and taken more out of acquisitive curiosity than for scientific investigation; and

    —  precedents for return existed, eg the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, Bradford Museum, Peterborough Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

  The Arts and Culture Committee agreed to the return in August 1990. This was carried out at a ceremony in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. At the time, this was considered an isolated exception which did not require an innovation in policy or procedure.

2.2  Five objects said to be from the Massacre of Wounded Knee

2.2.1  Historical Background

  On 31 December 1890 over 250 Lakota men, women and children were massacred at Wounded Knee by the United States 7th Cavalry. This was the culmination of a period of rising tension between the Lakota and the white community. As the Lakota had more and more land taken from them and their traditional way of life made impossible by the white settlement and the near extermination of the buffalo, many turned in despair to a new messianic religion which was led by Wovoka, a Pauite medicine man from Montana. He preached that if Indians performed the Ghost Dance, the white man would disappear, all the Indians who had died of disease or had been shot would come back to life and Jesus would come to save the Red Man from the White Man, who had killed Him when He came to them. To this the Lakota added a belief that wearing the ceremonial Ghost Dance Shirt would make the wearer impervious to bullets.

  In the harsh winter of 1890 the Ghost Dance movement alarmed white people, and a large army was sent in to contain the situation. Matters were made worse when Sitting Bull was shot dead while being arrested. The 7th Cavalry detained a band of Lakota led by Big Foot and took them to a camp at Wounded Knee Creek. The next morning the Cavalry began to disarm the Indians. During the search a shot was fired, and the soldiers opened fire indiscriminately. The bodies were buried in a mass grave near the site. The event was reported world wide, and was portrayed as a battle in which the Indians attacked the Cavalry. One of the reporters who travelled to the massacre site was George Crager, who had lived and worked among the Lakota since he left home at the age of 13, and served twice in the US army.

  In January 1892, just a little over a year after the Massacre, Crager was working as an Indian interpreter with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which was wintering in Glasgow. He wrote to the Director of Glasgow Museums offering to sell his collection. The upshot of this was that he sold 14 Indian objects to the museum, among them a warrior's necklace said to be taken from Wounded Knee. He also donated another 14 objects to the museum including a Ghost Dance Shirt, a pair of boy's moccasins and a baby's cradle, also said to be taken from Wounded Knee. The Ghost Shirt was on display in the main Art Gallery and Museum in Kelvingrove from at least 1960 up to 1999.

2.2.2  The Request for Return

  In 1992 the Ghost Shirt was included in a major temporary exhibition in Glasgow on the fate of American Indians, where it was seen by an American lawyer, John Earl. He reported his discovery and a letter requesting repatriation was sent. In April 1995 a delegation from the Wounded Knee Survivors Association (WKSA) led by their lawyer Mario Gonzalez, accompanied by Marcella LeBeau, a Lakota elder, arrived in Glasgow. They requested the return of the Ghost Dance Shirt and four other objects said to be from Wounded Knee. The case put forward by Mario Gonzalez was based on legal and ethical principles. He traced the history of treaties between the Lakota and the United States, and the increasing destitution experienced by the people as their land was reduced. He described the harsh winter of 1890-91 and the near starvation which the Lakota were experiencing. He recounted the events leading up to the Massacre and stated that "the crucial consideration" was that "this Massacre was not a battle during a war, but a Massacre of innocent people, mainly civilians, women and children, so that the material is not war booty. The items were stolen off dead bodies of people whose persons and property were protected under US law. Article 1 of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty provided that all war between the US and Lakota should forever cease. Article 8 of the 1877 Act (19 Stat.254) further provided that the Lakota people and their property would be protected by US law; this legal protection should have stopped the looting of the dead that occurred, and means that the looted items are stolen property."

  (Returns under the US legislation—the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (1990) grants unconditional return of religious objects. The Smithsonian Institution has returned several Ghost Shirts, some with weaker Wounded Knee provenances than Glasgow's but not under the provisions of NAGPRA. They did so on the grounds that there was no way they could have been legally acquired.)

  He also argued that because the Lakota tradition was to bury a dead person in his/her garments, the objects should be treated as having the same significance as human remains.

  In September that year the Director of Glasgow Museums responded on behalf of the Council saying that "Glasgow Museums have decided on professional grounds not to agree to the request for the return" of the five objects. The letter acknowledged the wrong done to the Lakota at Wounded Knee, and justified retaining the objects on the grounds that:

    —  the museum acquired the objects in good faith;

    —  the objects should remain in the public domain;

    —  the museum's duty to the modern Lakota was to tell the story of the Massacre, in ways which reflected their point of view;

    —  the story should be told at Wounded Knee, for which purpose the WKSA should claim Ghost Dance Shirts in American museums; and

    —  the story should also be told elsewhere, and this Ghost Shirt is the only one in Britain, and probably in Europe.

  The letter also made it clear that the Lakota could appeal to the City Council, which they did, in November 1996, through Iain Sinclair, a school teacher from the Isle of Lewis, who had been appointed WKSA representative in Scotland.

2.3  Beaded Waistcoat

  This request was originally made by Marcella Le Beau when she visited Glasgow on behalf of the Wounded Knee Survivors Association in 1994. The head of the delegation however made it clear that this was a personal request and was not part of the formal submission by the WKSA. No action by either Marcella or the City Council took place until 1999, when the claim was revived by a Mr Lewis Ballantyne on Marcella Le Beau's behalf. A study of the provenance of the Waistcoat has been commissioned and Mr Ballantyne has been asked to make the case in terms of the City Council's Criteria.

2.4  Human remains dating from the 18th century, found in 1932 in Greenhead Moss, Cambusnethan

  In 1932 a man digging peat at Greenhead Moss (half a mile south east of Old Cambusnethan Church, one mile east of Wishaw, Lanarkshire) uncovered the remains of a human body. The remains consisted of decayed, fragmentary human bones, clothed in a wool jacket, shoes, stockings and a cap. A report on the find in the Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society (New Series Vol IX, Part 1 1937) concluded:

    "Laid upon the improvised stretcher the body was apparently carried over a considerable stretch of desolate bog and disposed of furtively—the burial in unconsecrated ground suggests a case of suicide; yet the slashed bonnet and shoe, indicating sword thrusts, seem to weaken this conjecture.

    It cannot be stated definitely whether this killing episode was connected with the fighting induced by the religious disturbances prevalent in the district in the later part of the 17th century.

    Nor can it be affirmed whether the victim was a military or civilian person. He did not belong to the very lowest grade of society. If a Royalist he was more likely to have been a foot soldier than a horseman. A dragoon in uniform would wear boots, not shoes, and his equipment, as described in the ancient records, was apparently of better quality and of greater elaboration than that now discovered ...

    If the victim were a Covenanter he may have been cut off unbeknown to his companions and his body, bearing wounds on the neck and foot, carried away secretly and probably in darkness by the aggressors and given a hurried burial ... Further discoveries of 17th century clothing may throw light upon the mystery of the Cambusnethan murder, now published after a silence of 250 years."

  The dating was reassessed in 1975 by a costume expert, (Mrs Helen Bennet of the National Museum of Antiquities) who located the man's clothing as being from between 1790 and 1810.

 2.4.1  The Request for Return

  The Secretary of Central Wishaw Community Council, Mr Sam Love, wrote on 15 August 1997, asking for "a small part of the bones of the body", so that they could be "placed in a sealed container and placed within a Cairn" which was dedicated to the local Convenanting tradition, and due to be unveiled on

15 September. It was explained to Mr Love that a decision could not be made in this timescale. He resubmitted the request in October, in the belief that "as Christians that it is our duty and responsibility to have the remains of this young man returned to the place where his friends laid him to rest so long ago".

2.5  Benin Bronzes and Ivories

2.5.1  Historical Background

  In 1896 the British had nearly consolidated their control over trade in the Niger delta, but the Oba (king) of Benin refused to sign a protectorate agreement. The acting Consul-general, James Phillips failed to convince the Foreign Office to send an expeditionary force to "destool the fetish priest", so he decided to negotiate with the Oba himself. On 3 January 1897 he led an unarmed delegation to Benin city of eight other Europeans and their African porters, despite warnings that the Oba was performing the Ague ritual, during which time guests could not be received. The party was ambushed by Benin warriors and only two escaped alive. Within five weeks the British had sent a "punitive expedition" which conquered Benin, burned Benin city, deposed and exiled the Oba and summarily shot or hanged an unknown number of lesser chiefs and warriors. Over 3,000 objects mainly the carved ivory and brass castings which are amongst the greatest artistic achievements in the world—"the African equivalent of the Renaissance". Many of these were sold in London to pay for the expeditionary force, with a great many being purchased by the British Museum, and other museums in Liverpool and Berlin.

  Glasgow Museums has 21 Benin objects, including two bronze memorial heads, one of a King (Oba) and a Queen Mother, and an Ivory tusk, purchased in 1901, and a ceremonial sword, which are likely to have come from the punitive expedition.

2.5.2  The Request for Return

  The request for return came in November 1996 from Mr Bernie Grant MP for Tottenham, Chairman of the African Reparations Movement and supported by the West African Museums Programme, on behalf of the Oba of Benin, who wrote a letter of authorization for the request. The case set out by Mr Grant for the return of "Benin bronzes, ivories and other cultural and religious objects" was on behalf of the current Oba, and was for these objects to be returned, not to a museum but to the Oba's palace. He argued that they are part of a living culture and religion—for some rarely performed rituals which are not written down, the bronzes are the only source of correct dress. This culture was attacked by British imperial forces and plundered, creating an historic injustice which should be rectified. The technical case for repatriation is based on whether the British expedition was legal even at the time. The British justification—that the expedition was to punish the Oba and his people for massacring unarmed British officials—is countered by the current Oba, who argues that:

    —  the British were looking for a pretext for taking over Benin, so that their motive was not justice but conquest;

    —  there was no evidence presented that the Oba had ordered the attack on the Phillips' expedition, and that the war party could have been acting on its own initiative; and

    —  the British went against natural justice by organizing a trial in which they had a vested interest.

  In his address at the Centenary commemoration of the 1897 events, the current Oba compared their case for the return of objects removed in 1897 to the return of the Stone of Scone to Scotland and the moves to have Jewish gold plundered by the Nazis returned by Swiss banks.

2.5.3  Refusal and Appeal

  The Director of Glasgow Museums wrote to Mr Grant on 10 January 1997 rejecting the request for return. He stated that, though restitution was possible, and that Glasgow had recently returned Aboriginal human remains, he could not recommend return in this case on "entirely professional" grounds. He argued that

    "Museums have a collective responsibility, both nationally and internationally to preserve the past so that people can enjoy it and learn from it. In the case of the Benin collection in Glasgow though it is small and not of the highest quality, it does play an important role in introducing our visitors to the culture, and religious beliefs of Benin, whose artistic achievements rank with the finest not just in Africa but in the whole world. Virtually all our 22 Benin items are on permanent view to the public in Kelvingrove and in St Mungo's Museum of Religious Life and their withdrawal from these displays would limit, in our opinion, our visitors' understanding of the world.

    We have taken into account, too the fact that the museums in Nigeria, including the one in Benin itself, do now have one of the world's finest representations of this great culture and our collections would not add significantly to this, even if the request for restitution had come from them. However, in this case, we are not considering a transfer from one public museum to another, but a request on behalf of the Oba of Benin, himself, for future religious use. We believe, however, that these artefacts have an important role in the public sector by informing over three million visitors here about the culture of Benin, and it has to be said, the history of British Imperialism".

  Mr Grant immediately wrote back, formally appealing against the Director's decision.


  By early 1998 Glasgow City Council had three outstanding repatriation requests, which had been rejected by museums officials and for which there were appeals to the City Council. The Council decided a strategic approach to the issue was required. Initial investigation made it clear that, other than blanket refusal of all requests, no general policy was possible. On 8 April 1998 the Arts and Culture Committee therefore established a cross-party Working Group on Repatriation, chaired by Councillor John Lynch, to devise a procedure that dealt with the ethical issues involved, reflected the democratic ambitions of the Council, and to make recommendations to the Committee. The Committee agreed that each request should be dealt with on its merits, in the light of five main criteria:

    1.  The Status of those making the request ie their right to represent the community to which the object/s originally belonged.

    2.  The continuity between the community which created the object/s and the current community on whose behalf the request is being made.

    3.  The cultural and religious importance of the object/s to the community.

    4.  How the object/s have been acquired by the museum and their subsequent and future use.

    5.  The fate of the object/s if returned.

4.1  The Ghost Dance Shirt

  The procedure agreed to process this request included:

    —  briefing by an academic expert in the provenance and historical background of the objects in question (Ms Sam Maddra, who was researching the Glasgow Lakota material for a postgraduate degree at Glasgow University);

    —  consultation with the Council's legal department, who advised that there was no obligation in law to return the objects, and that the Council had the legal power to transfer ownership of the objects if it wished;

    —  consultation with members of the museum community. The Group was very concerned that, in its role as museum governors, it took the views of the museums profession into account and had a meeting with representatives from the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish Museums Council. Both were very supportive, recognizing the dilemmas involved, acknowledging that a decision either way was justifiable and supporting the open process we had devised. Neither expected a massive increase in repatriation requests if we did decide to repatriate—the "floodgates" predicted by the media; and

    —  a call for public comments through newspaper advertisements. Over 400 letters were received, the vast majority in favour of return, as was the voluminous correspondence in the letters pages of the press. After the return was agreed visitor comments books in the Museum next to the display received over 1,500 signatures, the vast majority in favour for return.

4.1.1  Provenance and Authenticity

  After considering the evidence presented by Ms Maddra the Working Group agreed with her conclusion that the Ghost Dance Shirt was almost certainly a genuine Lakota object, but its link with Wounded Knee was unproven and probably unprovable. George Crager was a showman and a liar, but he was at Wounded Knee within two weeks of the Massacre.

4.1.2  The Hearing

  The Repatriation Working Group held a hearing at which delegates from Wounded Knee Survivors Association and Glasgow Museums made presentations on their views. The public were invited to be present, but were not allowed to speak—anyone who wished to contribute to the debate was asked to do so in writing. This took place on 13 November 1998 and was chaired by Councillor Lynch. It was attended by representatives of the National Museum of Scotland, the Museum Ethnographers' Group, the British Museum, the Museums and Galleries Commission, the Museums Association and Leicester University Museums Studies Department and the Scottish Museums Council, along with nearly 200 members of the public.

  The meeting was taken somewhat by surprise when the Lakota delegation changed their request from all five objects to the Ghost Dance Shirt alone. The hearing proceeded on this basis.

4.1.3  Speech by Marcella LeBeau

  The Wounded Knee Survivors Association was represented by Marcella LeBeau. She introduced herself by her Lakota Name (Pretty Rainbow Woman) and her lineage; she was a member of the Hunkapapa Band of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She said that she was a retired nurse, who had served in the Army Nursing Corps in England, Wales, France and Belgium during World War II. She said that descendants of survivors and victims of the Massacre of Wounded Knee lived on the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Reservations.

    "The younger generation are identifying their Bands, taking their place in history and picking their roads. The Lakota people have lived under oppression, broken Treaties when the Lakota people were ruthlessly massacred at Wounded Knee—250 Lakota people died and something else happened—the sacred hoop was broken—the spirit was broken. It is up to us to solve our destiny—it is our choice—the choice of my son Richard and myself, on behalf of the Lakota Nation. We want our youth to know first hand their own history, to bring meaning to their lives, build self esteem, honour and respect into their lives, which is our culture, to eliminate the devastation of alcoholism, suicide and other negative influences. The Sacred Ghost Dance Shirt of Wanagni Wacipi Agee Wakan was taken off a dead body at Wounded Knee and the body was buried naked in a mass grave. No culture in the world would do this as it simply is not the proper thing to do. Native Americans have the greatest respect for their dead. Today on the reservation, we, as veterans of World War II, Vietnam and the Korean conflict pay our respect and tribute to each cemetery on the Reservation on Memorial Day, yearly. Memorial feeds and Give Aways are common to honor their dead. It follows the natural law of society that a Ghost Dance Shirt taken off the body of a massacred Lakota should be returned to the Lakota.

    Long standing grief and sadness prevails with the descendants and it would help in some small measure to bring closure and healing to a sad and horrible event in the history of the Lakota Nation.

    The Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Wounded Knee Survivors' Association have an agreement with the Heritage Cultural Centre in Pierre, South Dakota, to hold the Sacred Ghost Dance Shirt until such time as the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe have a suitable museum for the Ghost Dance Shirt."

4.1.4  Presentation by Mark O'Neill, Head of Curatorial Services

  Mr O'Neill provided professional advice to the City Council in coming to its decision. He argued that,

    "If museums represent our better selves, our humane values, then we have to admit to the possibility that there may be other values, which are more important than that of possession and preservation. Possession in itself cannot be an absolute value, taking precedence over all others. And if our values lead us to preserve an object because of what it tells us about the history of a particular human group, then it is inconsistent not to give that group the respect of at least taking their views seriously. The objects we preserve and the stories they tell reflect our values, what we stand for, how we wish to see ourselves, what we wish to bring with us into the future.

    A related argument here is that to give one object back creates a precedent and a floodgate will be opened up. The City Council has rejected this argument. It cannot be right to say, the case for returning this group of objects is just, but it cannot be done because future unjust cases may be encouraged. Values are above all a matter of choice, and for values to be real we must continually make the necessary choices. In Glasgow our vision of museums is not as dusty storerooms but a places where urgent issues of personal and communal meaning and identity can be explored and renegotiated."

  He acknowledged the strength of the case for repatriation, and also presented the arguments against, and on which the Council could base a decision if required. He presented an analysis of the significance of what was happening reflecting on the motives of those supporting return. These seemed to be based on Scottish people's self perception as a just people, and their awareness that they had been beneficiaries as well as victims of imperial conquest. He also questioned the benefits the Lakota hoped repatriation would bring them. He then evaluated the case for repatriation against the Council's five criteria.

4.1.5  Applying the Criteria

  It was clear that the Ghost Dance Repatriation request scored strongly against the first four criteria. The Wounded Knee Survivors Association had established their bona fides and their right to represent the community to which the objects originally belonged. The individuals involved in the WKSA were direct descendants of the victims of the Massacre. Though the Ghost Dance Religion was no longer practiced, Wounded Knee was overwhelmingly important to the Lakota, marking the end of resistance to white conquest, and the removal of garments from the dead was anathema to their spiritual beliefs.

  On the fourth criterion, relating to the museum history of the object, Glasgow had long displayed the object, and had plans to develop the displays, in the belief that museums had the right, indeed the duty, to show objects relating to the worst aspects of human behaviour, as well as to great cultural achievements.

  The most difficult issue was the fifth criterion, the fate of the object if returned. Mr O'Neill argued that the preservation of and provision of public access to historical objects for educational purposes were legitimate values of the City and its museums which needed to be acknowledged, so that for example, reburial would not be acceptable, nor would storage in private hands.

4.1.6  The Negotiations

  The fate of the Ghost Shirt was the key issue of negotiations which followed the hearing. While the WKSA had undertaken to store the Ghost Dance Shirt in a museum in South Dakota, accepting public display as a condition of return was not straightforward. Many members of the Lakota community in the US felt they had a right to unconditional rights over the Shirt (as they would have under US Legislation). However agreement was reached in the following terms:

    "The Council agreed to transfer ownership of the Ghost Dance Shirt. In return the Wounded Knee Survivors Association undertook to

    1.  Preserve in perpetuity the Ghost Dance Shirt

    2.  Ensure that the Ghost Dance Shirt is displayed at all reasonable times in an appropriate place where the Shirt and details of its historical and cultural significance is accessible to members of the public

    3.  Acknowledge in any public display of the Ghost Dance Shirt, the role of the people of Glasgow in its history and preservation: and

    4.  Agree to loan the Ghost Dance Shirt, which would be accompanied by a representative(s) of the Association, for public display in Glasgow for such periods as may be agreed between Glasgow City Council and the Association.

    Glasgow City Council shall examine with the Association ways in which Glasgow City Council might establish educational, cultural and other similar links with the area represented by the Association.

    In reaching its decision on this matter, Glasgow City Council has treated the claim of the Association on the basis of its own particular merits and does not bind itself to act in a similar manner in any future claim by other persons in relation to any artefact within its ownership."

  It was acknowledged that these conditions were based on trust, as it is very unlikely that the City Council would take any legal action if they were not carried out.

4.1.7  The Decision

  The Cultural and Leisure Services Committee of 19 November 1998 agreed to the Working Group's recommendation that the Ghost Dance Shirt be returned. This was ratified by the full Council that day.

4.1.8  The Return

  The return took place eight months later, involving a delegation from Glasgow which included Councillor Elizabeth Cameron, Councillor John Lynch, and Mr Mark O'Neill. After two days of ceremonies at Eagle Butte on the Pine Ridge reservation, the Ghost Dance Shirt was formally handed over by Councillor Cameron on Saturday 1 August at the site of the Massacre. Twenty-nine descendants of those who were at the Massacre attended, along with about 200 other people. After speeches and the presentation of gifts, the Ghost Dance Shirt was handed over to the Director of the South Dakota Historical Society, who took it to the museum for safekeeping and display. The following day there was a further ceremony at the Museum, attended by Marcella LeBeau and senior officials from the SDHS. A bagpiper and Indian hoop dancer gave the event a sense of cultural exchange.

4.1.9  Developments

  Links with the Lakota will be developed as funding and other resources permit. The possibility of bringing over a group of teenage drummers to perform in Glasgow's World Music festival, in both formal and community venues and schools is being investigated.

4.2  Human Remains from Cambusnethan

  After a meeting between Councillor Lynch, Mr O'Neill and Mr Love to explore the reasons behind the request, Mr Love agreed to resubmit his request in terms of the Council criteria. This has not yet been received.

4.3  Benin Bronzes & Ivories

  The Working Group requested a presentation from Professor Frank Willet, former Director of Glasgow University's Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, and a noted authority on West African culture, having conducted archaeological excavations in Nigeria, and being the author of a number of important works, including African Art (Thames and Hudson). Professor Willet made a specific case against returning artefacts to Nigeria. He presented evidence:

    —  of his concerns for the safety of the artefacts if they were returned to Nigeria and commenting on the inadequate security arrangements within Nigerian Museums;

    —  that Benin artwork had been stolen from Nigerian Museums and sold on the open market;

    —  that although the Oba of Benin was interested in keeping old traditions alive, he could not guarantee the safety of the artefacts given that other art works had previously been stolen from his palace; and

    —  the artefacts in Glasgow were not unique in themselves, or uniquely important for the Benin culture.

4.3.1  Current Position

  The Working Group has deferred making recommendations until the outcome of the Parliamentary inquiry on Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade. Given

    —  that the relatively minor importance of Glasgow's Benin holdings, and the world class holdings of other UK museums and in Benin itself, it would be very difficult for a return by Glasgow not to be seen as a precedent; and

that Glasgow City Council as a responsible museum governing body is reluctant to make unconditional returns, which would be the result of repatriating to Nigeria, given the unstable conditions prevailing there.

  The Repatriation Working Groups feel that the Benin issue is a national and intergovernmental problem in which it would be unhelpful, at this stage, for individual museums to act unilaterally.

4.4  The Lakota Waistcoat

  A study of the provenance of the Waistcoat has been commissioned and Mr Ballantyne has been asked to make the case in terms of the City Council's Criteria. The Council expects to make a decision on this by the end of June 2000.


  Glasgow has not received any new requests for repatriation since the return of the Ghost Dance Shirt, though an earlier claim from the same community has been renewed. The Ghost Dance Shirt was an exception to the general presumption against return because of its unique position in the history of the Lakota, because of the way the object found its way into Glasgow's collection, and because the delegation were able to meet the Council's concerns for the long term preservation of the object.

  Glasgow City Council was able to contain the precedent effect by generating a well informed public debate about the issue, and devising a thorough and transparent decision making process.

April 2000

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