Tohono O'odham Nation Repatriation
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.