Students at IUPUI are helping authorities identify and return a number of artifacts to their rightful homes. Last week, officials from the FBI’s Art Crime Team held a ceremony at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in downtown Indianapolis to return more than 360 Chinese artifacts to members of China’s natural cultural heritage administration.
The artifacts are among tens of thousands found at the Indiana home of Donald Miller in 2013, many of which were said to have been illegally obtained. FBI investigators contacted IUPUI anthropology and museum studies associate professor Holly Cusack-McVeigh who, along with more than two dozen current and former students, began working to clean and identify the items.
In addition to the Chinese artifacts, the team arranged for 70 items to be repatriated to the Peruvian government. IUPUI says the students are continuing to examine thousands of additional artifacts which will eventually be returned to other countries and Native American tribes in the U.S.
"This has been a one-of-a-kind opportunity for my students to take what they’re learning in the classroom and apply it to the real world, but also to apply it to something that is very relevant, very current and incredibly meaningful," Cusack-McVeigh said. "This is as much a human rights issue as anything, and that is what my students are learning both in the classroom and here, as they work countless hours to help get all of these objects back where they belong."
The repatriation ceremony drew members of the Chinese media to document the handoff. Students and faculty from the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI were on hand as well, including second-year museum studies graduate student Liz Ale.
"It was such immediate gratification to see the look on the delegates’ faces as they opened those objects that we’ve been delicately preparing for years," Ale said.
Miller’s collection drew national attention, primarily for the more than 2,000 human bones that were found which were estimated to represent about 500 people, mostly Native Americans.
(Pictured) Associate professor Holly Cusack-McVeigh, center, along with (from left) students Rebekah Ryan, Emily Hanawalt, Liz Ale, Rebecca Jacobs and Brianna Jackson