The Challenges & Realities of Humboldt Forum in #Berlin #NoHumboldt21

Three years ago I wrote an article for Indian Country Today Media Network, which was titled “Naked Faux Savages and Neo-Racism in Berlin”, to which I posted a link here on my blog. A particular museum in Berlin has chosen to have a theater troupe perform a fake potlatch ceremony, in which naked performers sexualized their interpretation of such an indigenous gathering. The museum’s director Viola König continues to work for the Humboldt Forum project, and to me symbolizes all that is wrong with the project: the entire idea and still being built edifice to its colonial brutality hidden behind a “civilized” facade.

The challenge and reality is European museum directors, curators, supporters and others, including many of the European visitors have benefited from white privilege and supremacy for centuries, educated to believe this is civilized, conservative behavior to preserve what remains of certain cultures and peoples for posterity. This is the lie of the whole thing, and ignores the crimes against the survivors who have been petitioning and ignored though rightfully demanding their peoples objects be repatriated.

When anyone has been taught that culturally abuse, misinterpretation, misrepresentation and misattribution is normal, who have been taught to believe these things are civilized parts of their society, they keep perpetuating these crimes. Other challenges and realities is that there are persons who work for Humboldt forum and/or within the German (colonial) museum system who recognize and admit these are stolen items but who wish to keep their jobs.

On 15 October I will participate is a two-day event titled, “Prussian Colonial Heritage”, which discussions and challenges the continuing colonial practices and behaviors where Europeans justify and excuse the monumental crimes against other cultures, primarily those of people of color, and their refusal to return stolen objects, sacred items and even the remains of indigenous peoples and others. Protests against the project have continued before and since the foundation stone was laid in 2013, and the Humboldt Forum’s planned completion is 2019. Another protest is planned for 20 September, as members of various organizations such as Post-Kolonial Berlin, continue to work a forcible change in policy and protocols at HF and other museums.

From the 2014 article at ICTMN: “The Ethnological Museum continues to be the center of controversy regarding cultural insensitivity, misinformation and shock-value displays of indigenous items from around the world. One such was a display case of sacred Native items alongside a crushed Budweiser can and empty flask of whiskey, with a blurb stating that the biggest problem among Native Americans was alcoholism.

The museum’s director, Viola König, defended the sexualized performance and the museum’s collection. “Das Helmi were simply, playfully implementing all typical contemporary prejudices in a vivid, imaginative way to entertain,” she said. Regarding the controversial objects and displays in the museum, she said, “Organizers of the Humboldt Lab said, ‘Cultural appropriation is always a violent act, and direct or structural violence were likely used in acquiring many objects of our ethnological collections, but they still need to be shown.’”

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Karl May Museum’s Lastest on Human Remains? WE Decide, Not You. We’re in Control. #Repatriation

These photos were taken by and copyright to Mark Worth, used with his permission.

This photo was taken by and copyright to Mark Worth, used with his previous permission.

A “case study” by Robin Leipold, curator of the Karl May Museum in Radebeul, Germany. Karl May is the German author who created the stereotypical “American Indian” character Winnetou, peopling his dozens of books and later films with fabricated, mythical, heavily distorted “Indians”, but “positive” characters, not the vicious or dumb savages churned out by the USA. That’s why some try to claim it’s not so bad, and No, it’s not the same, but the effects of stereotyping are.

Forum: R. Leipold: The “Recommendations for the Care of Human Remains” in Practice: Case Study of the Karl May Museum Radebeul
This town is Germany is the homebase for Karl May fans, and hosts an annual festival each May. A festival which some Natives are invited to and attend, and without fail and no sarcasm whatsoever, are treated close to royalty as many Germans were introduced to “native culture” through May’s work and natives who dress and are believed to be traditional and thus “authentic”, due to appearance based on stereotypes, most certainly are. One isn’t faulting them, most have been misinformed for decades. There are lots of sincere people in Germany about native concerns as they understand them, but behavior and practices of the dominant culture still remain: appropriation. We believe it’s a unique opportunity that can benefit both, but this particular situation is unacceptable.

This same musuem (and others in Germany, but especially this one because they say they’re celebrating native culture) has been holding and refusing to return Native American scalps for years. Dismissing or ignoring entreaties to return these relatives home for proper, respectful treatment and burial. I was contacted and alerted in 2013 and began researching and writing, and by 2014, when invited to the festival I declined to participate in a “Q&A” on Native spirituality, not just because I won’t take part in any such affair but because of their holding native captives. So, almost 3 years of talks, negotiated and bluster, this is the latest from the museum.

Full of Eurocentrized interpretations of Native American cultures and practices, dripping with colonialism and pure German rationalé: that since they haven’t yet written guidelines and established protocols using only their logic and reasoning, the human remains cannot be returned. The level of white privilege and white supremacist behavior, the objectification of Native peoples is so deep, I could barely read the whole. So much for those who call themselves “Indian” experts, knowledgeable of native peoples and cultures, because obviously they have no respect or understanding of the Peoples, or even of cultural bridges.

And part of all this is reinforced when Natives and other allies are told, because we’ve been repeatedly told these exact phrases by staff and directors from KKM:

  • “Natives have visited many times and THEY never complained about the scalps.” (How could they, they were your guests!)
  • “Oh, natives were battling each other all the time and taking these trophies, what is the issue of us having them?” (If you can’t see it, it’s because you don’t want to. Multiple Native individuals, nations and organizations have informed you.)

Or by Natives: “They don’t know. We must educate them” On topics like these? They KNOW, they chose to ignore. When you’re not here year round, aren’t aware of the issues and know what they’re doing otherwise, your presence validates and further exacerbates the continuing colonialism, racism and silencing of minorities and ethnicities’ voices so they can continue their privileged play. These aren’t generally interested villagers you’re dealing with but those who consider themselves experts and wish to remain in control as decision-makers. Unacceptable. There are people who you can reach and help educate, and that’s what our documentary Forget Winnetou-Going Beyond Native Stereotypes in Germany is about. We’ve been researching and working hard to bring it to the world, about the REAL story behind Germany’s fascination with Natives, and it’s fall-out. Help us reach our goal.

Learn more here.
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My past articles and appearances on the topic of these human remains:

Karl May Museum Reneges on Agreement to Return #NativeAmerican Scalps