The Onondaga Nation objected to the sale at Sotheby’s of two Wampum belts that were valued at between $15,000 and $30,000. In the New York Times, the tribe outlined their objections to the sale and revealed a deeper mystery: no one knows how these artifacts, that were once in the collection of the Museum of the American Indian but seem to have been deaccessioned, found their way into private hands:
Wampum belts “represent our sacred history, the founding principles of our laws and life-ways and the importance of agreements that we have made between nations,” Christine G. Abrams, a member of the Haudenosaunee Standing Committee, said in a letter to Sotheby’s. “Wampum belts are our legal documents and records, which also combine sacred knowledge, forming the basis of our identity today.”
Shannon Keller O’Loughlin, a lawyer for the Onondaga nation, said the Onondaga considered the belts community property that were never owned by any one person, and that no Onondaga had ever had the authority to sell or transfer them. “Therefore,” she wrote in a letter to Sotheby’s last week, “these belts were originally taken out of these communities without proper ‘title.’ ”
How that happened remains a mystery, according to the letters the Haudenosaunee sent Sotheby’s.
“It is not clear how or why these two wampum belts were removed from native ownership,” wrote Margaret M. Bruchac, the coordinator of Native American studies at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus in Groton.
2 Disputed Indian Wampum Belts Pulled from Auction (New York Times)