Only viewable for a limited time online, my interview by Deutsch Welle TV, the largest international German news source, which was included on the topic of the Karl May Museum refusing to return Native Americans scalps. Deutsche Welle Broadcast 10 April 2014
Although now removed from display and replaced with replicas (claimed, it is not proven), they are still refusing repatriation, “We will not return the scalps but we are willing to discuss.” Discuss what?
The museum states it is their “property”, smacking of slavery terms, for we believe (and they are) these are part of natives who cannot move on to the next life until they are made whole again by being returned to their descendants, properly given ceremony and returned to the Earth. The scalps kept by the museum need to be DNA tested and authenticated.
The most vocal Germans, including the museum naturally, are vehement, dismissive, derogatory, and demeaning by turns, showing themselves to be woeful cultural morons despite their academic education. Conversely, there are many Germans who may not understand our beliefs, but they respect them over the prestige and ownership the museum claims, which is an ethically devoid stance.
My interview wasn’t very long during the broadcast, but below are questions and answers I had prepared beforehand, which provide more detail than the time allotment. Also, my article on the subject at Indian Country Today Media Network, Tribes Demand Return of Native Scalps from Karl May Museum.
What would happen to the scalps if they were returned? Why do they wish the scalps returned, because they are sacred items?
1. Different tribes might have different ceremonies, because Native Americans are not homogenous. They have different languages, histories, cultures, etc. but for everyone it would be extremely important and serious.
2. This is not just a matter of sacred, because many non-natives have the wrong view that we think everything is sacred. This is a matter of belief, of ethics and morality, which is lacking in anyone who is keeping native scalps or who condones the behavior.
3. Basically, if found to be native scalps, which needs to be authenticated and DNA tested to find which tribes or peoples they are from, for these scalps needs to be returned to them so the man or woman can be made whole.
4. The people these scalps were cruelly taken from are in a kind of limbo, denied the afterlife and the ability to move on. A purgatory at the hands of people who do not care. They only care that their visitors are duly shocked and amazed. They only care about the money and prestige. How and why should one be proud to buy pieces of a human being? Yes, these things happened in history, but it was a gristly piece of history you would think people had progressed beyond.
5. Would you want your great-grandparents on display away from their land, their people, their homes just for the amusement and fascination of strangers?
How has the response of the museum has been so objectionable?
1. First of all, the directors have lied on multiple occasionally. As when first asked, they said the items would be returned. They were not.
2. Next, they said they needed to have letters of request to even consider it. Such letters were written and signed by a number of natives from different tribes, and delivered by the American Embassy of Berlin who had agreed to intervene.
3. Later, the curator directly denied any request or letter had been received, yet had prepared a statement saying „They were a private collection, and therefore were not subject to international laws or conventions.“ Clearly, this suggests he was aware of the situation.
4. Looking through several photos of the scalps, it occurred to me that although some certainly looked genuine, others looked too „fresh and sensationalized“ to be real, and perhaps the reluctance of the museum to appropriately and ethically respond to the requests, is the possibility of being seen as fradulent in order to draw more tabloid-like attention. This is the exact same thing I saw at the ethnological museum in Berlin-Dahlem, where sacred items were cased with crushed beer cans and flasks of whiskey in an obvious attempt at eye-catching contrast and sensationalism, but which was highly offensive treatment of native culture.
Would you consider doing a ceremony or something to make it okay for the scalps to be there?
No, the scalps need to be returned to their people and homes and properly buried there, so they can move on to their next life with the ceremony they deserve and have long been denied.
The reason many Germans and Europeans do not see or understand the seriousness of this and other situations where native items are on display through misappropriation?
1. They grew up with Karl May’s books and have a romanticized but very often very stereotypical and inaccurate view of Native Americans tied to their childhood or escapist fantasies even as adults. They see them at past tense or extinct, or if alive now only ones from reservations who are spiritual shaman already ready with a wise saying or alcoholics or drug addled. Again, stereotypical views perpetuated by biased and ignorant news media who choose only to present a mono perspective when there are many native tribes and nations who are very diverse, progressive and educated, active in world events and life which includes that outside of their culture, yet are still knowledgable and active in native life.
2. We are not fantasies, yet many Germans and Europeans have been miseducated through the works of Karl May, and obviously cannot understand what is fiction and what is reality. That in itself is not Karl May’s fault in the slightest. He wrote fictional work that was just that, great entertainment for a variety of reasons if often inaccurate. The museum directors, hobbyists and others doubtless understand that fact, but the unfortunate situation created is that it has lessened the People as real, current figures.
3. The museum has stated many natives have visited and said nothing, but they are seeing this from a German ethnocentric viewpoint, and not how natives behave.
4. As a German who may see something they don’t like, in their own country, that is, they will boldly march up and loudly complain and stand in someone’s face waiting for answers. If you look on comments at native sources to articles, such as at Indian Country Today or especially on their Facebook group, many natives have visited and saw the scalps, saw the museum, which is seen as „bunch of horse crap and stolen native artifacts” but more accurately, its one unfairly gained or unethically or illegally purchased and/or transported. They go back home and tell their friends and family about yet another white person or group. They don’t go back and their review of the museum is bad. It is just another example of non-natives misappropriating native things and attempting to justify and make excuses for their actions and behavior, which unfortunately have to deal with multiple times every single day, from the smallest cognizant child to elders, and it is hurtful and harmful.
5. On the other hand, you have some nations who have been invited to participate in the Karl May Festival, who are actual, real Native American Indians from the Americas attempting to accurately educate Europeans about their cultures and peoples past, present and future. Sometimes they need funding to visit, sometimes it is for the prestige and publicity for their tribes. It can be a variety of reasons, but it can present a conflict of interest. Do you speak up? Are you even aware of the situation? Some natives who worked for the Karl May Festival had stated this. They were unaware of the situation of the scalps, as they’d not toured the museum fully, as the different collections are in different locations, yet these same natives quit working with the museum because of unethical, offensive behavior by KM staff. There was a dispute about using photos of special dances to sell alcoholic products at the festival, which is absolutely forbidden. At no time during dances, ceremonies or pow-wows is alcohol permitted. While the museum admitted culpability, they refused to do anything to correct the situation. So they have a history of insensitivity, and clearly lack of knowledge or care about native concerns despite the claim of “they strive to be sensitive and balanced.”
6. I have no prestige issues or conflict of issue, just like Mark Worth, although he is non-native, when I see something that is offensive or questionable, I speak up and ask those questions of museums and collectors. Without fail, and without exception, whether its Dr. Bolz of the Ethnological Museum in Dahlem Berlin, or these directors at Karl May Museum, they all have the same dismissive arrogant attitude, “Other natives have visited and didn’t complain,” or phrases like, “This is just a part of history.” Despite supposedly being educated, they fail miserably in ethics, morality or intercultural understanding. It’s back to the same premise of wanting to do what they wish simply because they want to.
7. If they are lying about these scalps being Native American Indian, then they have breached business law and ethics and morality yet another way. In either case, this is deplorable behavior by the directors of the museum and any and all staff involved in their keeping, and needs to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. This is not a matter of wild Indians going on the warpath, so that our feelings and requests can be dismissed as overreaction. No, this is the methodical but gravely serious demand for authentication of the scalps and their return.
8. For those who say it is just Indians “being wild, overreacting and excitable”, sure some might be in that mode, but there are far more like myself who are calmly, methodically but life and death serious about this matter.
9. This may seem like a relatively small issue to Germans, but is also connected to a huge problem of identity in our young people who have the highest rates of suicide. You are made fun of, mocked and dismissed as mascots, museum pieces, there for someone else’s fantasy, amusement and dramatic tales. What future for you, because you feel your culture, heritage and beliefs in all facets of your being, and it is not a mascot, etc. yet that is what you are relegated to time and time again. Displays like this are demeaning, and a part of unnecessary disrespect. I don’t agree with Germans displaying the cases of hair, teeth and other items taken or collected from victims on the Holocaust either, though many Germans see it as a piece of history they publicly make a display of so as to acknowledge the guilt of their parents and grandparents, and somehow prove they didn’t approve or condone it. Well and good, but leave us out of German obsessions with other cultures and morbidity.