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by Kirsteen Paterson
07 April 2022
'Significant moment' as council agrees Scotland's largest repatriation of looted antiquities

The bronzes were looted in the 1800s and will be turned over to authorities in Nigeria. © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

'Significant moment' as council agrees Scotland's largest repatriation of looted antiquities

Benin bronzes, Indian artefacts and Lakota treasures will be handed over

Councillors are to return looted artefacts from around the world in Scotland's "largest ever" repatriation of antiquities.

Items taken from the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 are amongst those set to be handed over from Glasgow's museum collection.

The decision will also mark the first repatriation of artefacts to India from any UK museum service, according to Councillor David McDonald, the outgoing depute leader of the local authority.

A collection of 17 bronzes looted from the Royal Court of Benin by the British in 1897 will be handed over to cultural authorities in Nigeria. Glasgow's museums acquired them from various sources in Britain, according to records, including through gifts, bequests and auction houses. A 14th century ceremonial sword and other items taken from Indian temples will also be returned. They too were gifted to the museums, but are likely to have been stolen and smuggled from India.

Curators at Glasgow Life will also hand over 25 items taken after the Wounded Knee Massacre, where 300 Lakota people were killed. These were sold or donated to Glasgow's collections by George Crager, the interpreter working with performers on the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show that visited Dennistoun in 1892. These were taken from the battlefield without the knowledge or consent of families, a council report stated, and will be returned to the Cheyenne River and Oglala Lakota Sioux tribes.

The decision was made at a meeting of the council's City Administrative Committee earlier today and marks what McDonald says is "the largest single repatriation of items ever from Scotland and the first repatriation of antiquities to India from any UK museum service".

He said: "This is a significant moment for the city and the wider debate on the topic of repatriation and decolonisation."

Ahead of the vote, McDonald stated: "The city is proud of its museums and the world-class collection of art and artefacts that they house. 

"But we are also rightly aware that some items came into our ownership in ways that are not acceptable.

"Around the world, museums are recognising their obligations to address legacies of colonialism that saw the theft and looting of cultural items from their homeland and rightful owners.”

The repatriation request for the Lakota items was made by the family of the late Marcella LeBeau, who led the successful campaign for return of the 'Ghost Dance Shirt' from the city's Kelvingrove Museum in 1998.

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