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Lions Roar : May 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 30 Native American religious leaders for the practice of traditional Native American religions by their present-day adherents.” Under NAGPRA, some sacred objects are returned to their tribes, while others that remain in museums benefit from the advice of aboriginal elders about how to store and display the objects. This is not always a straightforward process. In Hawaii, one museum returned sa- cred burial objects to an aboriginal group, which immediately buried and sealed them in a cave. Other native groups con- tested this group’s claim to exclusive right to rebury the objects, and currently, the museum is under pressure to force the unsealing of the cave, the unburial of the objects, and their return to the museum until the court battle is settled. Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, in close cooperation with members of the Six Nations Reserve, welcomes the members of the tribe to come to the museum and “feed” the Iquoisain, facemasks of their culture. According to Dan Rahimi, execu- tive director of gallery development for the ROM, the feeding ritual involves burning sweet grass, saying prayers, and offering corn mush. After that, participants in the ceremony eat the corn mush. This is quite a departure for a museum, since food sub- stances are never allowed in museum stor- age areas for fear of subsequent insect and rodent infestation, and of course fire and smoke of any kind is strictly forbidden. In order to honor the wishes of the reserve members and respect the objects in the way they are meant to be respected, the masks are “stored with the general collec- tion and then brought into a specially built ceremonial room with venting that leads directly out of the building to allow for sweet grass to be burned,” says Rahimi. These examples raise questions about subtle respect and innate power in sacred art. If, for example, the Iquoisain were not fed in the museum, would their power decrease? Do the Hawaiian burial objects have power only when sealed in a cave and not displayed or stored in a museum? Is there power simply in seeing such an ob- ject, which would argue for the value of museum display?