Montana returns artifacts to Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
in an unprecedented way: without red-tape and no strings attached
Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee director Tony Incashola inspects
a 'Scalp Shield'. (Naomi Robinson photo)
Missoula, MT It's not often artifacts are returned to
a tribe without red-tape and never-ending legal processes, but that
changed recently at the University of Montana. Cultural artifacts
with origins to the CS&K Tribes held at the UM's repository
for over 60 years are in the process of being returned.
moccasin's beadwork is identified and documented by SPCC staff.
In April, CSKT tribal staff, U of M, and delegations from other
tribal nations discussed the potential for the repatriation of property
and cultural artifacts held in the University trust. A partnership
of this kind is highly unique due to the fact that the University
is repatriating the artifacts without going through the bureaucratic
"red-tape" often associated with this type of property. Collected
over decades, over 800 artifacts make up the U of M collection.
The Salish Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee (SPCC), along with Tribal
Preservation and the People's Center, identified 82 artifacts as
Salish or Pend d'Oreille. An additional 100 plus artifacts still
need to be inspected and identified.
Matt of the Preservation Office, Tony Incashola and SPCC's
Sadie Peone examine a saddle and its beadwork.
Leaving all personal belongings close to the front door, staff
entered the restricted access repository and donned surgical gloves.
Armed with paper, pens and cameras, the time consuming examinations
began. Carefully handling each artifact, each article must be examined,
identified, photographed, and a detailed description is written.
Any damage and notations of usage must also accompany each piece.
view of a traditional women's saddle adorned with white buckskin
and beadwork, ornate pieces such as this were usually used
for special occasions. Beadwork is accredited to Catherine
Lassaw and was donated to the U of M in 1950 by a private
collector. (Naomi Robinson photo)
Received in 1951 from a private collector, a women's saddle
was the first article of business. Covered in white buckskin, the
artistic beadwork that adorned both front and back saddle horns
and stirrups was accredited to Catherine Lassaw. Modified at some
point, the traditional saddle has a more western style as the underlying
base. Hidden under the front saddle horn, the reign holder was fully
intact. Beaded and decorated stirrups with hawk bells showed the
saddle was in remarkably good shape. Tony Incashola, SPCC director
admired the work as staff examined it. Incashola, said "Work like
this, pieces that are highly adorned, weren't usually every day
use pieces. This was more likely a show piece, for special occasions.
" SPCC Collections Manager Sadie Peone noted that today most beadwork
artists place backing on their artwork; this piece did not have
such backing. "This is pretty neat," Peone said, "you can really
see how they did their stitching and how well it has held."
Other items included a child's cloth legging set. Decorated
with beadwork on the bottom, despite a few visible damage spots
the leggings were also in good shape. Acknowledging the work that
went into the creation of these items, Incashola said, "A lot of
love went into these items. It takes patience and work to bead.
These items are very special."
labeled as a "scalp" shield, this piece upon inspection revealed
that the scalp was indeed a horse tail attached to the painted
rawhide shield. Received by private donation the U of M will
be repatriating this item along with many others back to the
Tribe. (Naomi Robinson photo)
In protective wrapping, one item awaited its turn to be examined.
Original paperwork that accompanied the package stated, "Scalp war
shield." All staff gathered around its unveiling. As the shield
became more visible, gasps of admiration could be heard. According
to the documentation the shield came into the collection by a private
donor, Paul Pichette. Donated in 1950, the rawhide shield was highly
decorated with seven eagle feathers, hand-painted designs in green,
red and yellow paints, and a handful of black hair. Originally noted
as a scalp war shield, Incashola noted that this was a great example
of why each artifact must be examined. The "scalp," as it turned
out, is a horse tail, not an actual human scalp. The correction
was noted on the written detail sheet. Carefully placed back into
its wrapping the shield will eventually be moved into a more permanent
parfleche case, donated by Paul Pichette in 1950 to the U
of M. Showing notable usage the case can still be seen with
original painting and laces. Cases like this were used for
carrying fresh game and other food items. (Naomi Robinson
Many of the items that the tribes have identified will have
to wait to be housed back on the reservation. Currently the tribes
do not have a repository large enough to meet the needs of this
collection. To preserve collections like this, it takes a building
that can accommodate the special needs many of these items needs.
Moisture, air temperature, and even light, can damage items over
fully beaded men's loop necklace, shows wear and tear overtime.
The necklace part of the U of M collection will be returned
to CSK Tribes. (Naomi Robinson photo)
The University of Montana has agreed that until the CSKT and
many other tribal nations can accommodate their part of the collection
in whole or in part, that they will continue to house the artifacts.
According to U of M Professor Dr. C. Riley Auge, "There are no timelines
or restrictions for any of the Tribes to reclaim their artifacts.
The University of Montana wants to return these artifacts back to
where they belong, and that is with their people. It's just the
right thing to do."