Museum artefacts to be returned to Nigeria, India and Native Americans

The decision was made by Glasgow councillors following requests from the descendants of the rightful owners.

Glasgow City Council agrees to repatriate museum artefacts to Nigeria, India and Native Americans Sofia Garavano via iStock

The largest repatriation of museum items in Scotland has been agreed by Glasgow City Council, with artefacts to be returned to Nigeria, India and Native Americans.

Looted bronzes from Benin, a stolen ceremonial sword from India and belongings lifted from massacred Lakota people in South Dakota, USA, will now be given back.

The decision was made by Glasgow councillors following requests from the descendants of the rightful owners.

A cross-party group recommended the items were returned.

Cllr David McDonald, departing chairman of Glasgow Life which manages the museums, told the city administration committee: “The recommendations before us represent the largest repatriation of museum items ever in Scotland and, I believe, the first in the UK to India, so this is a significant moment for the city and the wider debate on the topic of repatriation and decolonisation.”

Bronzes, used in ancestor worship, were taken from the altars at the Royal Court of Benin during an invasion by British forces in 1897.

There are 17 in Glasgow’s collection, which were acquired as gifts or from auction houses, and the National Commission of Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, acting on behalf of the Oba of Benin, requested they be returned to Benin City.

Cllr McDonald, who isn’t seeking re-election in May, said: “These items are part of the living culture of Benin and will again be used for their original purpose on their return as well as being displayed in museums.”

The High Commission of India in London requested the return of eight items on behalf of the Government of India and Archaeological Services India.

These include building fragments stolen from Hindu temples and shrines as well as a ceremonial sword and scabbard.

Nearly 300 Lakota people were killed by US Army soldiers during the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota in 1890.

Belongings taken from the dead were sold to Glasgow by George Crager, the interpreter for performers at the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, which came to Dennistoun in 1892.

A request for repatriation of 25 artefacts was received from the descendants of the late Marcella LeBeau, a Lakota elder, politician, nurse and military veteran who died at the age of 102 last year.

The family is representing the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe, council officials reported.

Cllr McDonald said: “These items, the personal belongings of murdered Lakota tribespeople include necklaces, beaded waistcoats, head dresses, moccasins, a shield cover and children’s leggings.”

He added the city plans to make a financial contribution towards their return.

“The items for India and Nigeria are being sponsored by national governments or institutions,” he said.

“But the return of these items would otherwise be left up to the descendants themselves.

“We believe it would be an added insult for the city to expect the Lakota people to pay for the return of these items. We are asking officers to finalise arrangements and offer full financial support for the safe and honourable return of these items.”

The estimated cost of repatriation is expected to be between £30,000 and £40,000.

Ms LeBeau was behind the campaign for the return of the ‘Ghost Dance Shirt’, a sacred item to Native Americans which is believed to have been worn by a Sioux warrior during the massacre, from Kelvingrove Museum in 1998.

Councillors also agreed eight half-hull shipbuilder’s design models, gifted to Glasgow by Alexander Hall & Co of Aberdeen in 1881, should be transferred to Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum.

The Aberdeen museum has offered a 19th century display model of a Clyde-built Scotia as a transfer.

They also decided to return a ship’s bell and honours panel from HMS Glasgow to the Royal Navy.

The Navy had gifted the items to Glasgow when the Type-42 destroyer was decommissioned in 2005 but it will now use them on the new HMS Glasgow, a Type-26 frigate.

Cllr McDonald said the repatriation decisions should “be just the start” for the council in “delivering cultural justice and the decolonisation of our museums”.