Happy Returns

Does the “unhealthy” air index in Seattle make me miss the clean breezes of Finnmark?

Very much, indeed. The silver lining to confinement is the progress I am making on my inbox. Before I left in August, I received some happy news from Barbara Sjoholm. Her new book, From Lapland to Sápmi: Collecting and Returning Sámi Craft and Culture, will be published in early spring! If you are in Seattle, you can join her for a book talk at the Nordic Museum.

2023 University of Minnnesota Press

An important contribution to Sámi stories of loss, recovery, and the struggle for equality, as well as the right to manage one’s own cultural heritage on one’s own terms. As Barbara Sjoholm charts the transformation of Lapland to Sápmi in objects, joiks, and storytelling, Sámi voices emerge to share essential aspects of their history. As we say in Sápmi, ‘Čálli giehta ollá guhkás—A writing hand reaches far.’” —Káren Elle Gaup, coeditor of Bååstede: The Return of Sámi Cultural Heritage

I thought about the book often during my trip, first while in Venice for the Biennale, because the cover artist Brita Marahkat-Labba is exhibiting there, then in Karasjok, as I meditated on the excellent exhibit at the RidduDuottar museum, which includes the drum that was seized from Anders Poulsen in 1692, and recently surrendered by Denmark. And again in Oslo, where the new documentary about Brita was screening. (If you have a VPN, you can watch it on SVT.)

Drum by duojár Fredrik Prost, Karasjok 2022

A few other notable repatriations this year:

To date. only four of the 70+ drums authenticated as Sámi have been returned from museums and private collections. One was found in Rome recently, mislabeled as Inuit. Two others, located after a long search in Marseilles, are on loan for exhibits at the Áttje Museum in Jokkmokk (where my newfound cousin Tia — check out her Patreon — is enjoying her own epic returning) snd the East Asia museum in Stockholm.

Other notable returns this year include:

Chief Sitting Bull’s leggings and a lock of hair (stolen from his corpse) after a DNA test identified a more appropriate heir than the Smithsonian.

Patrice Lumumba’s gold tooth — after a photographer interviewing the descendant of his torturer/assassin said (rough translation) “WTAF?”

A Maaso Kova and other unethically obtained artifacts — to the Yacqui tribe from the Etnografika Museet in Stockholm.

Speaking of Sweden, dare I hope that the artifacts pillaged from my ancestral Unna Saiva return to Sápmi in my lifetime? Before I am no longer able to return myself?

It helps to find the humor: