Recently as I was conversing with friends at the MERC...the local meeting place in Helena...a man loudly announced that he had just won the bid in an auction of a Blackfeet War Shirt for only $250,000. Later when the Bidder told the same story the price was suddenly $500,000 and that he was going to sell the shirt for two million. Couldn't let that go unchallenged.
I started quoting Walter Echo Hawk, the famous lawyer who wrote the Freedom of Religion and the Repatriation Act. My friend is his law partner in Boulder Colorado. This Bidder stated that the law only applied to museums. This war shirt was found as part of an estate sale from a castle in Europe. Bidder had the paperwork of course that was perfectly legal.
Guilt is a powerful weapon but he was immune. I bought up the fact that the great grandchildren of the man that was killed while wearing the precious shirt were living in poverty while Bidder was making huge profits off their ancestor's sacred remains. Bidder didn't flinch.
I spoke of my Blackfeet friends and the Sundance Ceremonies..staying in their homes where they honored their ancestors and told the stories of their people. The Blackfeet Elders would surely know who this shirt originally belonged to so they could notify the family that it had been found. I would notify the Grandmothers.
CHIEF JOSEPH’S WAR SHIRT
"A light penetrated the past with the recent recognition of a beaded and fringed war shirt pictured in the earliest known photograph of Chief Joseph. The shirt surfaced at an Indian relic show in the 1990’s and was sold without any attribution or collection history. It changed hands again before the connection with the historic photo was discovered."