On October 21st 1989, twelve wampum belts in the possession of the New York State Museum, led by Martin E. Sullivan, in Albany, New York were returned to representatives of the Onondaga Nation. The transfer took place at the Longhouse on the Onondaga Nation, south of Syracuse. Some of the belts had been in the museum’s possession since the 1890s. In an interview with the New York Times in August 19889, Raymond Gonyea, a member of the Onondaga Nation and a specialist in Native American affairs at the museum, said ”These belts are our archives, that’s why we have been trying to get them back.”
The Times article also mentions that Irving Powless, a chief of the Onondagas who represented them in negotiations with the state, said the belts were used to record the history of the Iroquois Confederacy and were to be present at all meetings of its chiefs.
”They remind us that we are sitting there as peacemakers for our people and the world.”
In June 2012, the Onondaga Historical Association repatriated a wampum belt and other sacred objects to representatives of the Onondaga Nation. What was special about this local repatriation is that it was completely voluntary, as only federally funded museums are subject to the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, which requires that objects of historical, traditional, or cultural importance to any Native American group to be returned.
In an article by Syracuse.com Sarah Moses from 2012 stated, “OHA Executive Director Gregg Tripoli presented the wampum to Tadodaho Sid Hill, a spiritual leader for the Onondaga Nation, and other nation leaders during a ceremony at the museum on Montgomery Street in Syracuse.”
The belt had been at OHA since 1919.
Syracuse.com’s article also mentioned, “In addition to the wampum belt, OHA returned four ceremonial masks, known as “false faces,” and bones. The bones were given a proper burial by the Onondaga Nation. Hill hopes the actions of OHA will lead to other museums and private collectors to return sacred items to the Haudenosaunee.”
Photo Caption: Gregg Tripoli (left), executive director of the Onondaga Historical Association, returns a wampum belt that has been in the museum’s possession back to Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief Jake Edwards, and Faithkeeper Tony Gonyea, of the Onondaga Nation during a news conference at the museum.
Photo Credit: Peter Chen / The Post-Standard