Illinois State Museum Joins Global Conversation on the Return of Cultural Heritage

Jamila Wicks
Illinois State Museum Joins Global Conversation on the Return of Cultural Heritage
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois State Museum (ISM) will join museums, universities, and museum professionals across five continents virtually April through June to present a four-part conversation series on repatriation and the return of cultural heritage.

Due to colonization practices, museums hold in their collections ancestors, belongings, and treasures belonging to Indigenous peoples. As museums atone with past practices and engage Indigenous communities, they are beginning to return some of their holdings to the cultures where they belong. However, a viable, international approach to repatriation has yet to be found.

To work towards international solutions, the University of British Columbia (UBC) hosted a seminar last year to support the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) in drafting a report on the repatriation of ceremonial objects, human remains, and the intangible heritage of Indigenous peoples. The report was presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council and adopted in October 2020.

In alignment with the report's recommendations, this conversation series encourages intercontinental and interdisciplinary dialogues amongst participants and fosters communities of professional practice across the globe. The organizers hope that this global conversation series will build on the work initiated by EMRIP and UBC and bring the field closer to the development of a common process to facilitate the international return of the ancestors, belongings, and treasures of Indigenous peoples. Additionally, these discussions will bring forth these issues for the general public and spark conversations about repatriation within their local museum community.

"It is essential to continue this dialogue and provided a forum where Indigenous experts, together with museums and universities, can discuss ways to advance a human rights-based approach to repatriation," said co-organizer Armando Perla, a consultant, activist, and independent curator. “Through these conversations, we also want to initiate talks around creating a global network on repatriation that could respond to the pressing need for adequate training for professionals working with these collections. We strongly believe that fostering these partnerships is crucial in decolonizing our institutions."

"The Illinois State Museum is working to be a trusted partner to Indigenous communities worldwide through our repatriation efforts and beyond," said ISM Director Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko. "This series offers a meaningful and important conversation that we need to hear, and we are excited to invite people into the discussion."

The Illinois State Museum presents the conversation series in collaboration with The Museum of Us, the Canada Research Chair on Civic Museology at the University of Montreal, On Possible Futures, funded by the Maryland Institute College of Arts, Ohio History Connection, the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, ICOM’s International Committee on Collecting, and Armando Perla.

Program schedule listed below:

Setting the Foundation
Thursday, April 29 at 12:00 PT/14:00 CT/15:00 ET/9:00 NZDT+1

Panelists: Sheryl Lightfoot, University of British Columbia (Canada), Sue Rowley, Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (Canada), Te Herekiekie Herewini, The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (New Zealand)

Moderator: Armando Perla (Canada/El Salvador)

A year after the expert seminar was held at the University of British Columbia in Canada, we will discuss several of the points and recommendations made in the report with some of the organizers and attendees. In this conversation we will look at how things have changed since the expert seminar, the progress that has been made, and what remains to be done.

Indigenous Led Initiatives
Thursday May 13 at 10:00 PT/12:00 CT/13:00 ET/15:00 BRT/19:00 CET

Panelists: Lucy Bell, Haida Nation (Canada), Amy Lonetree, Ho-Chunk Nation and UC Santa Cruz (U.S.), Lis-Mari Hjortfors, Sami parliament (Sweden)

Moderator: Tricia Logan (Canada)

In this conversation with Indigenous experts, attendees will learn about repatriation initiatives led by Indigenous peoples on three continents. Some of the initiatives discussed will include the development of repatriation guides, ethical guidelines, and community advocacy.

Museum Dialogues
Thursday May 27 at 9:00 PT/11:00 CT/12:00 ET/18:00 CET/19 :00 EAT

Panelists: Adriana Munoz, Museum of World Culture (Sweden), Anabela Carlon Flores, Yaqui People (Mexico); Purity Kiura, National Museum of Kenya (Kenya); Steve Nash, Denver Museum of Nature and Science (U.S.)

Moderator: Brooke Morgan (U.S.)

This conversation will focus on the transcontinental dialogues taking place both among museums and between museums and communities to ensure the return of tangible and intangible heritage to the places and communities where they belong.

Moving Forward Together
Thursday June 10 at 12:00 PT/14:00 CT/15:00 ET/21:00 CET/22:00 SAST/9:00 NZDT+1

Panelists: Brandie Macdonald, Museum of Us (U.S.); Te Arikirangi Mamaku, The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (New Zealand); George Abungu, International Standing Committee on the Traffic of Illicit Antiquities  and Okello Abungu Heritage Consultants (Kenya); Deirdre Prins-Solani,  Independent expert on Intangible Heritage (South Africa)

Moderator: Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko (U.S.)

This conversation will sum up the points discussed in previous conversations and will start a dialogue on the steps needed to continue to materialize the recommendations in the report. It will explore the creation of communities of professional practice across the globe and other actions that can strengthen the work that has been done until now.

For registration information, visit

About the Illinois State Museum
Established in 1877, the Illinois State Museum is a dynamic institution that inspires the exploration of Illinois' past and present to inform and enrich everyday life and promote stewardship of cultural and natural resources. Headquartered in Springfield with branch facilities in Lewistown and Lockport, ISM is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and a proud member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Learn more at

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