An Oregon tribe has temporarily reclaimed artifacts that have been at the British Museum for over a century.
The new exhibit at the Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center in Grand Ronde features just 16 of the more than 200 tribal artifacts owned by the British Museum.
The collection was originally curated in 1870 by Rev. Robert W. Summers.
Summers was no ordinary curator. He kept a journal documenting how he got the objects and who he got them from.
“Summers cared about the people as much as the objects,” David Harrelson, cultural resources department manager for Grand Ronde, told “Think Out Loud.”
Because Summers had kept track of who the artifacts had belonged to, those owners’ direct descendants are able to see the objects of their ancestors now that they are back on the reservation.
“There are literally aunties, and grandmas and great grandmas whose objects these were,” Harrelson said.
Some had even traveled to the British Museum to see the items before they knew they would come to Grand Ronde.
Travis Stewart, the interpretive coordinator at Grand Ronde, made the trip several years ago.
“To see these objects that were so far from home and that we had such a deep connection to, it was just really surreal,” he said.
Stewart made an appointment with the museum and outlined which items he wanted to see. The items were held in a storage facility off-site.
“Most of all these objects haven’t seen much of the light of day over the years,” Harrelson said.
Some of the items in the collection have become obsolete in the culture today. But the Chachalu museum is not a museum of a dead culture, emphasizes Harrelson.
“We are bringing these objects to keep cultural practices alive and living.”
The Grand Ronde tribe has developed classes alongside the exhibit to bring back that knowledge and tradition.
“Even though we have contemporary basket-makers or contemporary makers of things, they’re looking at these things in a new light,” Stewart said.
Harrelson described what it felt like when they opened up the shipping containers at unpacked the relics for the first time:
“They took a breath, that’s what you could feel. Literally, a breath of air because they were where they were supposed to be with the people they were supposed to be.”
The Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center will display the artifacts through May of 2019.
To hear more of “Think Out Loud’s” conversation about the new exhibit at Grand Ronde, click the “play” button above.