Conversations between the Bristol City Museum curators and the Tongva Ti’at Society in California began when we made the film Donation to the Museum about the two Tongva/ Gabrieleno ancestral skulls and some grave goods from Santa Catalina and San Nicholas islands which had been housed at the Bristol City Museum since 1921. Never displayed, always in storage, and not really of any research interest in Bristol, My research had established the history of the collection and involved conversations with the descendants of Alfred Hutchins (the relic hunter who excavated the graves in around 1900) as well as descendants, two of whom were among the directors of the present day Pimu/Catalina Island Archaeological Project. Finally it seemed the time was ripe to agree a return to California.
This was arranged to coincide with the Royal Anthropological Institute’s biennial international ethnographic film festival, the venue where the film had first been screened in the UK just four years before. In the meantime, the RAI had also become the international distributor of the video, which has proved to be of interest to other indigenous groups involved in international repatriations as well as to museum and other educational institutions that support this work.
Contributors to the original film including Tongva descendants Cindi Alvitre and Desiree Martinez, Curators Wendy Teeter (Fowler Museum UCLA) and Karimah Kennedy Robinson (Autry Museum of Western History), Sue Giles (Bristol City Museum and Gallery), Teri Brewer (filmmaker and researcher).
David Robinson, Director of the Windwolves Archaeological Project joined us and Lynn Dodd, archaeologist from the University of Southern California and Research Associate for the Pimu Catalina Island Archaeological Project joined us remotely. The topic of the forum was recent collaborative projects between indigenous people of California and archaeologists or anthropologists. This forum will be repeated and extended in 2020 at the University of Southern California, (date to be confirmed) The program and subsequent events were filmed for the Pimu Catalina Island Archaeological Project and for Archaeoikon by Peter Wilcox.
In the afternoon, we were able to schedule the formal transfer of custody for the skulls and materials from the islands to descendant Cindi Alvitre and to hold a public ceremony at Bristol City Hall to honor these Tongva ancestors as they headed home. Wealso honored the long and cordial collaboration between all the curators, archaeologists and others involved, and particularly the support of Mrs. Avalon Eastman, the grand daughter of Alfred Hutchins (the relic hunter), and a stalwart supporter of the film and repatriation project right from the beginning.
So far press coverage has been confined to the New York Times and local Bristol media.
We are happy to see the Tongva islander ancestors home at last and reburial is bring arranged, but that is not the end of the story. These skulls and grave good were the first international repatriations for the Tongva, but there are other skeletal remains and artifacts in Europe which are bring investigated and we hope to film more on this larger story. In the meantime we would like to applaud the success of the many NAGPRA repatriations for the Gabrieleno/ Tongva which have so far resulted in the reburial of about 700 islanders and more than 2000 individuals from the Greater Los Angeles area. Much of this has been done under the aegis of the University of California Los Angeles’ Fowler Museum and we are very fortunate to have had their expert curator, Dr. Wendy Teeter involved with our international effort at Bristol from the beginning.
Enough for now. A new postscript for the original film is now in preparation, photos will be added here soon. We hope to continue some collaboration with the Pimu Catalina Island Archaeological Project in the near future.