Public Statement: The Karl May Festival, Museum & Repatriation Situation

Update 4 February 2016: The Karl May Museum reneges on its agreement to return native human remains. Unfortunately, I and other natives and allies experienced in German and Native American interaction were disregarded by the native negotiator who first attempted this because they didn’t accept the German mindset and employed strategies that didn’t and wouldn’t have helped.

Update 8 June 2014: Following the 30th meeting, the museum said they may be willing to return the scalps, but wish to pass them to a larger museum or organization for final authentication and testing before making any decision. They claim this needs time, although it was revealed in the 31st meeting that they had already known of the scalp dispute for four years before finally replying to return requests since the situation was made public. We will continue to follow the story, to see if they follow through in their “promise”, and not digress as before.

As some may know, I had received and accepted an invitation by the City of Radebeul Culture and Tourism Office to participate in a 31 May discussion panel  on the topic of repatriation of native scalps held by the Karl May Museum, which I wrote about in my article for Indian Country Today Media Network. Despite the museum having made a concession in removing the scalps from display, and returning them to storage, they continue the stance that these are just property and part of history. The director states they will not accept responsibility or make any decision about the scalps, instead referring the matter to Merkel and the German government.

When I accepted the invitation, considering the seriousness of the issue, I assumed it would be in a professional setting. This was an oversight on my part, for it was instead during the festival on its grounds, on a peak evening. Most importantly, the situation with the museum is not the main topic of the panel, but rather a quickly added topic to an already planned show, titled “Indian Spirituality.” Certain representatives of the Oneida Nation will be speaking “on the significance of spirituality in present times,” as explained at the KM Festival website.

I do not want my presence at this event interpreted by news media as being in agreement or acceptance of events supporting cultural appropriation or “spirituality for show.” If this discussion panel had been separate and solely devoted to repatriation and native concerns as I was led to believe, I would gladly have participated. It is not. It is superfluous, and as commented by a museum staff member and doubtless recognized by festival organizers as well, the quote: “the media hype about the scalp also has its advantages. We will be able to cut this year’s advertising budget by half.” So, the anguish, concern and outrage by natives at this situation is favorably viewed for its financial gain by them, and the main reason stated at repatriation refusal is it was a legal transaction decades ago.

A private meeting is taking place on the 30th of May with select museum staff, Cecil Pavlat of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and again “certain representatives of the Oneida Nation.” Although as informed and concerned, other natives who are not in association with the city, festival or the museum are not invited.  The public and the press are also forbidden.

I agree with certain representatives of the festival’s organizers that the Native American position needs to be made known, especially since Germany’s media have primarily been dismissive, while others were disrespectfully derisive to the scalp situation and myself. In my interview broadcast by Deutsche Welle, though brief, the majority native position was already made known.

This is why we, natives and non-natives alike, are organizing a demonstration and information point where intercultural understanding and respect can by gained by those who wish to learn in an unbiased setting. This will include the chairperson and members of the Native American Association of Germany who was excluded by festival organizer’s, yet have been working many years in agreement with natives to educate Germans on cultural respect and alleviating cultural appropriation.

I fully support the demand for repatriation of any human remains found to be of indigenous origin so that our people can return home and respectfully be laid to rest. I respect Mr. Pavlat’s journey to speak on behalf of not just his tribe, but all indigenous nations who honor their ancestors in the private meeting on the 30th of May. Yet because of changes and misrepresentation to me and others as to the main topic of the discussion panel on the 31st, but most importantly its location, I no longer feel it is appropriate for me to participate.


* * * *

Native artist, author and philanthropist Jana Mashonee, announces she will not perform at the Karl May Festival 2014.

Her message posted at her Facebook site:

“Hello Everyone,

I have officially removed myself from performing at the Karl May Festival in Radebeul, Germany that will occur May 30- June 1, 2014 in quiet protest to the recent actions of the Karl May Museum and its culturally insensitive management of Native American artifacts at the museum. I have just become aware of the museum’s refusal to remove specific Native American human remains from their storage and repatriate them to the proper tribes in the United States. Frankly, I find this treatment of our people unacceptable.

I feel it is inappropriate for me to participate. I do not want to be associated with an institution that does not respect and give dignity to the very group of people they are supposed to be honoring.

Thank you. Please share.


List of other Native American or native related articles on this post.






5 thoughts on “Public Statement: The Karl May Festival, Museum & Repatriation Situation

  1. Very glad you are there to let the world know about these important issues. The resistance you encounter only proves you’re in the right place doing the right work.

    1. One sincerely hopes that just like issues, the decision will be to do the ethical and moral thing, and not always be based on money and materialism.

  2. Than you for speaking out. I never stop being flabbergasted by the ability of others to ignore the impacts of their actions on us, or on any number of other ethnic/minority groups. It seems the idea of true reparation is difficult for most people to grasp. Still, it is crucial we speak up. Again, thank you for your perseverance and courage.

    1. Indeed, and particularly it is hard in Europe such as in countries like France or Germany which have no laws or recognition regarding the rights or concerns of indigenous populations as they have none by their definitions. As you say, how they cannot and something do not want to understand the impact, I can only mention my own example, when my own son sees pieces of his ancestors or relatives proudly on display in a museum, in his own words he said it somehow made him “feel like nothing or no one cares about us.”

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