Tribe bids somber farewell to 16 Summers Collection artifacts
By Danielle Frost
Smoke Signals staff writer
Letting go of a single cherished item is seldom easy, let alone 16 of them.
On Thursday, May 30, Tribal Council members and staff gathered in a somber farewell ceremony for the 16 Summers Collection artifacts.
When the items were first unveiled in May 2018, it was during a ceremony at Chachalu Tribal Museum & Cultural Center. For the first time, Tribal Council and others viewed the 16 artifacts, which had been housed at a British Museum warehouse outside of London for more than 100 years.
It was only fitting that a farewell ceremony for the artifacts be held in the same location almost exactly a year later before the items were carefully packed into crates to begin their journey back to England.
“On behalf of our Tribal people, I want to say how much we appreciate the visit of these precious pieces that have come home for a year,” Tribal Council Secretary Jon A. George said. “Being able to visit with them and knowing it’s like having our ancestors come home. They came to tell us that we are OK.”
“The Rise of the Collectors” featured those 16 items collected at Grand Ronde shortly after the Reservation was established. The objects were on loan from the British Museum after a decades-long process to obtain them.
Tribal officials have had their eye on the Summers Collection since they first learned of its existence at the British Museum in the late 1990s. The London museum became a pilgrimage destination of sorts for those seeking to see and reconnect with belongings of their family and Tribe.
Thursday’s farewell ceremony opened with drumming and singing by Grand Ronde Tribal drummers, which included Cultural Advisor Bobby Mercier, Cultural Resources Department Manager David Harrelson, Cultural Education Coordinator Jordan Mercier, Cultural Collections Specialist Nick Labonte, Historic Preservation Technician Nicolas Atanacio, Interpretive Coordinator Travis Stewart and Cultural Protection Specialist Chris Bailey backed by Public Affairs Administrative Assistant Chelsea Baranski and Cultural Education Specialist Flicka Lucero.
Bobby Mercier performed a blessing for the artifacts while the smell of burning sage filled the air and said a prayer in Chinuk Wawa.
Other Tribal Council members in attendance were Denise Harvey, Kathleen George and Vice Chair Chris Mercier.
Jon A. George said the artifacts provided an opportunity for youth to see the pieces that were creating approximately 150 years ago and also know that they are making their future as a cultural people.
“We are still a living culture,” he said. “We also want to thank the British Museum for caring for these artifacts all of these years. I look forward to our relationship in the future.”
A parfleche purse was one of the items on display during a private ceremony that was held at the Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center to say farewell to 16 Summers Collection items on loan from the British Museum on Thursday, May 30. The Summers Collection items were on display at Chachalu from June 1, 2018, through May 23, and will now return to a warehouse outside of London.
Chris Mercier said he remembered when Tribal leaders first viewed the artifacts in London in 2002. He was working for Smoke Signals at the time.
“It may have taken some time, but it doesn’t lessen the fact that it happened.” he said. “This was a pretty impressive achievement. We are the first Tribe that has been able to do this. … I am honored that as a Tribe we got to experience this. It shows that our Cultural Resources staff is top-notch.”
After almost 20 years of pursuing the collection’s return, Tribal collections staff were notified in late 2017 that the British Museum would approve a loan request. Direct requests for the permanent return of the collection were not successful because it takes an act of Parliament for a full repatriation of items.
Mercier added that the Summers artifacts, featured for a year in “The Rise of the Collectors” exhibit, put Chachalu on the map.
“It showed the public that this is a great place to come to learn the Tribe’s story,” he said.
Cultural Resources estimates that more than 10,000 people from across the United States visited the exhibit this past year, including members from all nine federally recognized Oregon Tribes.
Bobby Mercier shared that he had prayed the items would carry the Tribe’s songs and words back to the other artifacts.
“I hope it will remind them that they are in our hearts and our minds,” he said.
More than 200 of the Summers Collection items specific to the Grand Ronde Tribe remain in England. They were gathered by McMinnville-based Episcopal Rev. Robert Summers in the late 1870s from the first Native Americans to inhabit the Grand Ronde Reservation.
Harvey thanked the Cultural Resources staff for never losing hope.
“I can say today that everyone involved in the process stuck to it,” she said. “It feels like our ancestors came home. I will say publicly, we got a lot of praise and recognition, but it was all of you who made it happen.”