Indian chief’s descendant wants Harvard to return tomahawk

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. _ A Native American lawyer wants Harvard University to return a tomahawk once owned by his pioneering ancestor, Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe.

Brett Chapman, of Oklahoma, told GBH last week that he’s reached out to the Cambridge, Massachusetts university’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology to return the heirloom.

Standing Bear gave the tomahawk to one of his lawyers after winning the 1879 Nebraska federal court case that made him one of the first Native Americans granted civil rights under U.S. law, Chapman said.

Standing Bear’s lawyer wrongfully gave away the artifact and that others, including the Ponca tribe of Nebraska, are now also seeking its return, he said.

“My objection here is on a moral basis,” he told the station. “Standing Bear had no idea that what he thought was family was just going to give away this relic.”

A university spokesperson told the station the museum is open to “conversations that could lead to repatriation,” but that other family members and tribal representatives should be part of the discussions.

Earlier this year, a Native American group complained that the Harvard museum has not always consulted with tribes about cultural items that could be returned to them, in violation of federal law.

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