Weisman Art Museum Faces Criticism, Delaying Repatriation of Native American Objects

Sofia Perlman, Staff Writer

The Weisman Art Museum, located at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, has faced scrutiny over The Mimbres Collection. This collection includes burial objects, human remains, and painted bowls found near graves in southern New Mexico among the Pueblo, Pueblo Zuni, and Hopi tribes. 

A team of University of Minnesota faculty and students excavated the remains from 1928 to 1931. From this excavation, over 2,000 objects and 150 human burial remains came to The Weisman. Over the years, the tribes involved have made numerous attempts for the collection to be returned to New Mexico; however, it is still at The Weisman today. 

In 1990, Congress passed a law stating that federally-funded institutions must create a collection of Native American objects to be returned to the Pueblo people. The University of Minnesota and The Weisman Museum have faced criticism from local Native American communities and the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) since they have delayed the creation of a complete inventory for too long. 

In 1995, the University of Minnesota archaeology students and anthropologists created an initial inventory of the artifacts but not a complete catalog that included details on human remains and burial objects. Twenty-five years later, The Weisman remains in possession of the artifacts. 

In 2018, the museum was set to exhibit the objects. Despite the strong recommendations of Native American people, the museum pushed forward with the exhibition until it was canceled immediately before the opening. 

In an October 2020 article for The Minnesota Daily, the campus newspaper for the University of Minnesota, Andrea Carlson, a University of Minnesota graduate and Ojibwe artist said, “I’m so used to hearing how beautiful our grave objects were. Just because they’re beautiful does not give a non-Native person the right to put them on display.” In the same article, Debra Yepa-Pappan, a Korean Native-American artist, described how it is not up to the museum to determine what objects are significant enough to display and what aren’t. “If it’s ultimately significant to Pueblo people, then let it be ours. These are materials that were supposed to remain with those people they were buried with. And it’s for them, not us.” 

The Weisman acknowledges the delay on its website, stating, “We must acknowledge that this delay was a mistake, and The University’s previous failure to provide an inventory and discuss the holdings has been a source of pain and ongoing trauma for MIAC and the Minnesota Tribes they represent.”

In September of 2020, The Weisman planned on completing their inventory in the next four to six months. They have also assembled a committee of University of Minnesota scholars and Native American scholars to consult as they continue cataloging The Mimbres Collection. However, the impact of COVID on the timeline is not yet determined.