Wichita Tribe to regain artifacts from museum

Wichita, Kansas (AP) September 2010

Members of an tribe retrieved some pieces of their past during early September from a south-central Kansas museum that has voluntarily decided to return the artifacts.

Legislation passed by Congress in 1990 requires museums and universities that receive federal funding to identify certain types of Native American artifacts in their collections and consider returning them if asked by a tribe.

The law covers human remains, funereal and sacred objects, and artifacts that have historical, traditional or cultural importance.

The Towanda Area Historical Museum doesn’t receive federal funding and isn’t required to return artifacts, but museum officials sought out the Wichita tribe and offered to return the items, according to The Wichita Eagle.

“We didn’t have to give these things back,” said Hank Burchard, the Towanda museum treasurer. “But it is the only thing that crossed our mind. We could have sold it on eBay, but we wouldn’t want to do that. We wouldn’t sell it for a profit or anything like that.”

The artifacts include a 5-foot replica of a grass lodge, the sort of structure that the Wichita lived in along the banks of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas rivers in the mid-1800s. There are also 15 painted figurines, some of them representing humans, with ancient tribal markings.

The artifacts were created by Wichita tribe member Frank Miller and his wife in the 1930s. The tribe, which has never seen them, is eager to claim them.

Several representatives of the tribe will travel from their headquarters in Anadarko, Okla., to Towanda on Thursday to get the items.

“Our tribe is small, and it’s important to preserve all of that for our children and grandchildren to know who we are and how we lived,” said Loretta Partridge, a member of the Wichita who has researched the tribe’s history and culture.

“It’s a way to maintain who we are.”

The museum received the pieces in 2006 from the Butler County History Center, which had them for nearly half a century after they were donated by Charles Heilmann, an El Dorado judge. The Butler County center gave them to Towanda after its focus shifted to the farming and ranching industries.

The tribe will try to incorporate the artifacts into display cases in Anadarko that already are filled with artifacts.