Tohono O'odham Nation Repatriation.

Tohono O’odham Nation representatives in the AMNH’s anthropology collections.
Tohono O’odham Nation representatives in the AMNH’s anthropology collections. Left to right: Louis Lopez, Jesse Navarro, Samuel Fayuant, Johnny Sam, and Luterio Lopez.
D. Finnin/©AMNH

 

In August 2021, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), Division of Anthropology, welcomed five representatives from the Tohono O’odham Nation (formerly known as “Papago”) to complete the repatriation of 126 items from the ethnographic collection. The delegation members included: Cultural Affairs Specialist, Samuel Fayuant; Governmental Affairs Assistant, Jesse Navarro; Gu Achi District Senior Services Coordinator, Luterio Lopez; Medicine Man, Johnny Sam; and Cultural Preservation Committee Vice-Chairman, Louis Lopez. The Tohono O’odham Nation is one of four federally recognized O’odham bands that trace their history to life in the Sonoran Desert, situated in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

The Museum and Tohono O’odham Nation have been working together since 2019 to consult on the items included in the tribe’s repatriation claim. Many of these pieces were once part of the Vikita Ceremony, or Great Harvest Festival, which was historically performed every four years to bring the rain necessary for a successful harvest and maintain order in the world. The last known ceremony took place in the 1940s.

While reviewing the items in storage, the delegation discussed the history of the collection and ritually cleansed ceremonial pieces. The items were then packed in crates and loaded onto a truck in preparation for the long drive back home to Santa Rosa, Arizona, where they will be returned to the communities from which they were originally collected.

 

Tohono O’odham Nation representatives guide the packed crates
Tohono O’odham Nation representatives guide the packed crates through the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs. The Museum was closed to the public, which allowed privacy and a clear path through the exhibition spaces.
D. Finnin/©AMNH
Members of the delegation take a closer look
Members of the delegation take a closer look at a strand of seashells collected by Victorian Explorer Carl Lumholtz in 1911. These and the other items on the table belonged to one of Lumholtz’s informants, a Tohono O’odham man named Simon, who sold his Vikita Ceremony regalia in 1911.
D. Finnin/©AMNH
Simon was photographed in Lumholtz’s 1912 “New Trails in Mexico” publication.
One of Lumholtz’s informants, a Tohono O’odham man named Simon, who sold his Vikita Ceremony regalia in 1911, photographed in Lumholtz’s 1912 “New Trails in Mexico” publication.
 
Johnny Sam and Luterio Lopez take a closer look
Johnny Sam and Luterio Lopez take a closer look at one of the repatriated feather headdresses, which was worn by a ceremonial Clown or nawichu during a Vikita Ceremony in the early 1900s. Nawichu masks resemble hoods and feature large plumes, primarily from turkeys, hawks, and black sea birds. Their canvass faces were pierced to reveal two eye holes and decorated with painted chevron motifs representing clouds. Horsehair braids fell down the sides of each mask and a long, textile train descended the back.
D. Finnin/©AMNH
Tohono O’odham Nation representatives completed the packing
Tohono O’odham Nation representatives completed the packing of the repatriated items on August 16 and began their journey home to Santa Rosa, Arizona.
D. Finnin/©AMNH