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Bear Claw Necklace back with the Sac and Fox Tribe

Gone for 70 years

March 21, 2014
By John Speer - Editor ( , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

It went to Chicago for some 50 years, then on to New Mexico for 20 more. A bear claw necklace worn by Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa - Meskwaki - Chief Pushetonequa was recently reacquired by the Tribe.

Now It's back at it's "rightful place" - the Meskwaki Settlement west of Tama, said Tribal Chairwoman Judith Bender during an unveiling ceremony on Saturday afternoon, March 15. An otter turban also makes up part of the display.

Bender said she hoped the return of this artifact is the "first of many."

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It is on display temporarily at the History Wall near gift shop off the Meskwaki Hotel Lobby at the casino complex west of Tama-Toledo.

The necklace was purchased through a New York auction house, Jonathan Buffalo, Meskwaki Tribal historian, said. When Tribal members learned the necklace was to be offered at auction from the estate of New Mexican David Brown earlier this year. Brown died in 2013. An inquiry was made on behalf of the Tribe to see if the heirs would repatriate - return - the necklace to its place of origin.

When that avenue failed the Tribal Council stepped forward and authorized bidding. Buffalo said Tribal member Luke Kapayou did the bidding by phone during the live auction. The primary competition turned out to be a Frenchman. He apparently could profit form resale of the necklace because France has no reparation laws, Buffalo said, making it a free market for artifacts.

Article Photos

The bear claw necklace and otter turban of Sac and Fox - Meskwaki - Chief Pushetonequa are shown with a colorized portrait of the Chief in a display near the gift shop at the Meskwaki Bingo • Casino • Hotel on Saturday, March 15. A short ceremony was held to unveil the treasured artifacts, returned to the Tribe after some 70 years.
News-Herald photos/ John Speer

However, Kapayou prevailed in the bidding process. Buffalo said he was "thankful" for the Tribal Council decision to authorize the purchase and a special case will be built to house the necklace for permanent display at the Meskwaki Cultural Center and Museum.

The necklace was first acquired during the 1940s from a Meskwaki family by a Chicago collector. details of that transaction are unknown Buffalo said. Upon the Chicago collector's death in the 1990s, the necklace moved on to New Mexico.

The necklace is made up of claws from Prairie Grizzlies which are now extinct, Buffalo said. He estimates it to be at least 200 years old and is representative of the Bear Clan, one of 12 Meskwaki Clans of which seven remain active today, Buffalo said.

Buffalo said the University of Iowa has agreed to repatriate a Fox Clan necklace to the Tribe from its Native American collection.

He also plans to ask the Smithsonian in Washington to repatriate a Thunder Clan necklace.



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