Native American Sacred Objects Restituted from Swiss Museum
The Musée d’ethnographie de Genève (MEG) returned two sacred objects to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which were acquired without consent nearly 200 years ago. The Haudenosaunee are commonly referred to as the “Iroquois” or “Six Nations,” which include the indigenous communities of the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk, and Tuscarora, located between the US-Canada border. The two objects, a sacred mask and a ceremonial rattle, were donated in 1825 by historian Amédée-Pierre-Jules Pictet de Sergy, first to the Musée académique, whose collection was subsequently transferred to the MEG. As early as 1923, Iroquois Chief Deskaheh raised the issue of dispossession of indigenous objects by colonizing states during his visit to Geneva. In 2022, a member of the Haudenosaunee External Relations Committee discovered the objects in a display case in the museum, prompting the demand to remove the objects and initiate restitution proceedings. While the objects were removed the day of the request, the City of Geneva formally authorized the restitution on October 12, 2022. For its return, the objects were handed over to Clayton Logan, representing the Seneca Nation, and Kenneth Deer, from the Mohawk Nation, in a ceremony at the MEG auditorium. No images were allowed due to the objects’ sacredness. Logan then performed a tobacco burning ceremony to welcome the return of the objects. Read more about the objects’ return here.
Illegally Imported Pre-Columbian Stone Sculpture Returned to the Embassy of Peru in Switzerland
Swiss authorities handed over a cultural heritage object to the Embassy of Peru in Switzerland after it was found to have been illegally imported into the country. Referred to as the “tête clouée,” or “nailed head,” the carved stone head is approximately 2,500 years old and dates back to the Pre-Columbian Chavin culture in present day Peru. In 2016, an individual attempted to import the object into Switzerland, but failed to declare the object as cultural property. Customs officials examined the object and suspected it could be subject to Switzerland’s law on the international transfer of cultural property, known as “LTBC” (la loi sur le transfert international des biens culturels). The case was passed to the Federal Office of Culture (OFC) for further investigation. In Switzerland, failure to declare cultural property and false declarations are illegal under the LTBC. Switzerland and Peru are also parties to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. In addition, the two countries signed a bilateral agreement in 2016 on the importation and exportation of cultural property. The sculpture is now in the possession of the Embassy of Peru in Switzerland and is planning to be returned to its state of origin. Read more about the sculpture’s return here.