Skip to main content

News Release

Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

Inspired by the increase in news headlines from around the world reporting the return of stolen cultural patrimony and human remains to their homelands, the exhibit “Returning Cultural Treasures” opens Friday March 20th at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. The exhibit highlights the global incidents of war looting by the Nazis, stolen materials, and illicit archeology under colonialization, examines the removal of cultural patrimony in Ethiopia, China, and from American Indians and First Nations in the US and Canada, and the current challenges to enforce laws on repatriation. A tour of the new exhibit starts at 2 p.m. on Friday March 20th and is free with regular admission to the Mitchell Museum located at 3001 Central Street in Evanston, Illinois.

Cultural theft and confiscation have been rampant on every continent. Thousands of manuscripts, frescoes and cultural artifacts were stolen, sacked and plundered from Dunhuang’s Mogao Grottoes in China during the 19th– early 20th century. The cultural treasures of Ethiopia were stolen and removed from the country at the battle of Maqdala in 1868. The Parthenon Marbles were taken from Greece in 1801. And as of 2012 the Association of American Indian Affairs estimates between one and two million Native American ancestral remains are in the possession of non-Native repositories around the world, not including collections of looted cultural objects. 

Slowly, the global view on the spoils of war is changing. Indigenous and subjugated peoples are asking for the human remains of their ancestors, religious objects, and other cultural patrimony back. Countries can now register cultural sites and objects to be protected with UNESCO and report stolen art and cultural patrimony to Interpol, in order to help stop sales of looted items at auction houses, by museums, and by heirs looking to sell their families’ plunder. 

However, in countries who were occupied or controlled under colonization, or exploited by foreign expeditions, the return of cultural patrimony is still stymied. As the world learns more of how the material was confiscated and the cultural impact on the home people, it reinforces the need for repatriation and protection of each culture’s material culture and historic and sacred sites. 

This exhibit was developed in partnership with the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, the Chinese American Museum of Chicago and the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago with support from the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and the Field Museum.  

A programming series will accompany the exhibit starting April 16th from 6-8 p.m. with Henry Red Cloud and Lakota elders speaking on the repatriation from Washington College of Chief Red Cloud’s eagle feather bonnet which will be displayed for the event only. And, July 29th, Justin Jacobs from American University will present on the impact of the “Indiana Jones” archeologist archetype, the historical politics of archeological expeditions, and the return of materials to indigenous cultures. More programs will be announced throughout the year. 

The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian is one of only a handful of museums in the country that focuses exclusively on the art, history, culture, and current events of American Indian and First Nation peoples throughout the United States and Canada. In 2017, the Mitchell Museum won the Illinois Association of Museums’ Superior Award for exhibits. Other current temporary exhibits include “Extraordinary Artwork” and “Stunning Stories in Native American Jewelry” recently featured on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight.

For more information about the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, visit, call 847-475-1030 or see our verified Facebook page. The museum is located in Evanston, Illinois at 3001 Central Street. It is open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, students, and children, and free for Mitchell Museum members and Tribal members.