Written & Researched By David Fegley of PA. Fegley gives in-depth information of the issues of the American Indians and their methods of recovering historical George Washington Indian Peace medals. Specifically on addressing that they were gifted to Indian chiefs and they are not property of the Tribe as a collective.
Cultural Patrimony and the Disposition of
GEORGE WASHINGTON PEACE MEDALS Part 1
Researched and written by Dave Fegley in correspondence with Gary Gianotti
In 1990 the “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act” was put into effect for the purpose of further protecting Native American graves and repatriating remains and associated objects that fall into these categories. Human remains, (associated and unassociated) funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony.
On May 17th 2021 the famous “Red Jacket” medal was gifted to the National Seneca Museum by the Buffalo History Museum who had owned the relic for 123 years. The Seneca Nation had requested the return of the medal under NAGPRA claiming it
“as an object of cultural patrimony that has significant historical and ongoing cultural and traditional importance not only to our community but to all Seneca peoples.”
The definition of terms included in the NAGPR Act defines “cultural patrimony” like this;
(D) “cultural patrimony” which shall mean an object having ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to the
Native American group or culture itself, rather than property owned by an individual Native American, and which, therefore, cannot be alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any individual regardless of whether or not the individual is a member of the Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization and such object shall have been considered inalienable by such Native American group at the time the object was separated from such group.
The key provision in this definition is whether the property was of such central importance to the Tribe or group that it was owned communally. The potential vagueness of this term again produced
comment by the Senate Committee:
The Committee intends this term to refer to only those items that have such great importance to an Indian Tribe or to the Native Hawaiian culture that they cannot be conveyed, appropriated or transferred by an individual member. Objects of Native American cultural patrimony would include items such as Zuni War Gods, the Wampum belts of the Iroquois, and other objects of a similar character and significance to the Indian Tribe as a whole (Senate 1990:7-8).
Many objects in archeological or ethnographic collections are not subject to the statute, because they never had a burial, funerary, religious, or cultural patrimonial context in the culture that they were part of. Such objects would be retained in existing repositories with appropriate treatments and care. When archeological investigations or unanticipated discoveries on Federal or Tribal land result in the recovery of such items, they are to be treated and disposed of according the requirements of the appropriate archeological or historic preservation laws.
This is important to note that regardless of the request for repatriation by the Seneca and parroted by Mellisa Brown and Walter Mayer of the Buffalo History Museum (and Seneca Nation representatives) in multiple interviews, speeches, press releases, etc. that was used as a campaign of misinformation (especially) the few weeks prior to the “repatriation” ceremony to attempt to establish a cultural
patrimony argument after the fact and shape public sentiments.
The fact remains that the “Red Jacket” medal was personal property (or owned by an individual) under law and definitions provided. At best the Buffalo History Museum failed to do their due diligence or made a deal with the Seneca Nation not to “go after” the other relics that they feel fall into this category. This is implied by Dr Stahlman in a press release like this;
Despite identifying other objects at the Buffalo History Museum, the Seneca Nation does not want everything to leave the museum. “We don’t want everything, not because we don’t care, but some of it has to be out in the world. I mean that’s what a museum is,”
The Buffalo History Museums Melissa Brown offered this statement regarding “objects of cultural patrimony”; “Prior to the return of the Red Jacket Peace Medal, there were no conversations about it being an item of cultural patrimony. That conversation had never happened, but then again no real conversations were happening. So I think that being proactive and making that time is important.”
The more obvious reason this discussion did not happen for 31 years (since NAGPRA) is that it simply is not an “object of cultural patrimony”.
The claim that this “Peace Medal” can be defined as being owned by the group (or entire nation) as a whole rather
than an individual is debunked by Red Jacket himself as it is documented that he often… lets say “pawned” the medal to pay for liquor. Having the freedom to do so without approval of a tribal council implies individual ownership. He was deposed as a “chief” with the support of 25 other chiefs in 1827 (mainly) for his continued alcoholism and incompetence. At this time he was not stripped of the “Peace Medal” given to him by George Washington. He was later restored to his post with an intervention by the US Department of Indian Affairs and a promise to reform. After his death the medal is passed to his nephew James Johnson. It was not passed as “a badge of office” but as a distribution of his personal property. The group as a whole did not use the medal to anoint his replacement or decide to whom it would be given. Johnson later agrees to sell the medal to the New York State museum in 1851. At this point he has owned the medal for over 20 years and also implies individual ownership of the medal or that he has approval “of the group” to sell the relic. Ely Parker desiring the medal, interjects himself into the deal and pays James Johnson the amount agreed upon by the New York State Museum. A year or so later in 1852 Parker is appointed “Chief Sachem” and he wears it with pride and takes every opportunity to show the famous medal. He even requested it be placed “around his neck” as a symbol of peace which furthers a widely believed story that I take from an Ely Parker lesson plan page from the Teaching Museum of the
National Park Service;
It is said that four months before the birth of her son, Elizabeth Parker had a dream in which she had a vision of her homeland in the winter of the year. Out of a snowy sky came a rainbow that broke in the middle. The rainbow had signs with letters upon them suspended “like those seen over white men’s stores” according to Parker’s great nephew & biographer Arthur C. Parker. When Elizabeth consulted one of the Seneca dream interpreters, he told her that:
“a son will be born to you who will be distinguished among his nation as a peacemaker, he will become a white man as well as an Indian. He will be a wise white man, but will never desert his Indian people. His name will reach from the east to the west, the north to the south. His sun will rise on Indian land and set on white man’s land. Yet the ancient land of his ancestors will fold him in death.” This dream would prove prophetic as Ely Parker indeed walked the line between those two worlds and go on to write the terms of surrender for the Army of General Lee as a member of General Grants staff bringing peace to the United States as a whole.
Regardless of the story being true or not the medal was not “passed” to Parker or bequeathed to him by the group, he bought it and maintained ownership til his death in 1895 when the medal passes to his widow Minnie Parker. She sells it in 1898 to the Buffalo Historical Society. In three years time the medal was not passed to a lineal
descendant nor did it immediately return to the “Native American Group” to anoint a new “Chief Sachem”.
A role according to his nephew Arthur C. Parker he had not fulfilled for over thirty years, only returning to the reservation once or twice a year to visit his family. Again implying individual ownership rather than of the group of Native Americans as a whole at the time. In fact every one of the first four (and only) owners implied and considered the medal their personal property and not owned by the group at the time. Therefore it is by action implied by all parties – buyers, sellers and the “Nation” that the Red Jacket Medal is considered “alienable” by the Native American group (Seneca Nation) at the time the object was separated from the group. Three times.
Minnie Parker was approached many years later by Seneca representatives to retrieve the medal from the Buffalo Historical Society Museum. Her response was that she wished it to remain in the care of the museum.
In general it seems ironic that a matrilineal culture would make a claim for patrilineal objects. To gain some insight on this subject during this time period I turned to New York Senate documents. There is case after case of the Seneca trying to intervene in inheritances of property using what seems to be an extremely racist position against “mixed breed” (or white) beneficiaries. It seems it is more to this point than the necessity of the medal to carry on governmental continuity.
At this point I believe Ely Parker would have to agree that this is a losing case in any court for claiming it is an object of “cultural patrimony” under the NAGPR Act.
The statements of both Dr Stahlman (National Seneca Museum), Walter Mayer and Melissa Brown (Buffalo History Museum) should not be considered any type of legal precedent regarding the definition of “an object of cultural patrimony” or a true historical account of the medal or its ownership and purpose provided in the press releases and speeches. The law is specifically written to prevent this very thing from happening by including “at the time it was separated from the group”. – You don’t get to make it up as you go along. It would open the door for extortion of any relic in every little historical society in the country. There is no way many institutions could fund fighting lawsuit after lawsuit over every individual item any “Native American group” decided was an object of cultural patrimony or as Dr Stahlman put it “sovereign relic”. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the history of Peace Medals know that they along with many other items were given as gifts to individuals and not to the nation as a whole or necessarily associated with treaty signings or official nation business. No matter how many times it is inferred – This 1792 medal has nothing to do with the Treaty of Canadaigua. The “Red Jacket” medal was a gift to Red Jacket hoping to instill loyalty to a new nation and George Washington himself. (After fighting on
the side the British during the Revolutionary War)
If they were sovereign relics meant to be passed by lineal descent through the ages why were some of them interred with the owners as personal property? Where are the examples of George Washington Oval Peace Medals that are intact in lineage with this purpose?
This should not be allowed to be a redefinition of “cultural patrimony” under NAGPRA and used as a precedent instead of viewing and considering it for what it is – The opinions of the Seneca Nation who has an agenda as well as a new museum to fill and the representatives of the Buffalo History Museum avoiding bad press from ensuing litigation win or lose.
This may allow repatriation requests to be used as a form of legal and public sentiment terrorism directed at historical repositories and collectors.
Nevertheless I believe it resulted with the medal in a much better venue, but the method is knowingly flawed and misleading. The Seneca Museum has a fitting relic to display and the Buffalo History Museum turned potentially bad press into good press and can feel like they did the right thing if you believe there are no personal property rights and or strive to further personal “woke” agendas imbedded in institutions such as these. Do not let a positive result turn into a travesty of method or a campaign of cultural terrorism based on a United Nations concept that “cultural affiliation” replaces proof of ownership, or proof that an object was stolen or illicitly
removed. It attempts to amend traditional standards of property and ownership that have perpetuated since Roman law and allows the evolution of a control regime over cultural property that takes into account the cultural aspects of the objects instead of personal property rights and definitions under US law. On an international level, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) of 2007 stipulates the same (communistic) view of indigenous peoples’ cultural affiliation claims from notions of property and ownership. UNDRIP’s provisions on indigenous, tangible, movable culturally affiliated objects as it stands between private property and human rights law and brings into focus a concept that goes beyond traditional property law as is defined within the NAGPR Act.
Take time to read the attached links for a better understanding of NAGPRA. Misinterpretations and outright misinformation put out in press releases and interviews are causing many relics to “lose” their history. The lack of clarity or a precedent of resistance to repatriation requests is robbing us all of this shared history. This would have been an easy one to set a precedent with concerning Peace Medals specifically.
An arbitrary oversight committee should have heard an argument and made an unbiased decision. No US court would consider it even remotely possible the Red Jacket medal could be determined an object of cultural
patrimony. Then after a legal definement the Buffalo History Museum could have gifted the medal to the Seneca Museum. The result would have been the same except all the other owners or care takers of relics related to Native Americans would feel safe enough to continue to display and openly share the history awareness of this fascinating place in time and not be subject to harassment or academic and public sentiment terroristic practices.
Both the Seneca Nation and Buffalo History Museum representatives are well aware of this as is evident in the Notice of repatriation intent document as the National Park Service adds this disclaimer under supplementary information in the document.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Notice is here given in accordance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), 25 U.S.C. 3005, of the intent to repatriate a cultural item under the control of the Buffalo History Museum, Buffalo, NY, that meets the definition of cultural patrimony under 25 U.S.C. 3001.
This notice is published as part of the National Park Service’s administrative responsibilities under NAGPRA, 25 U.S.C. 3003(d)(3). The determinations in this notice are the sole responsibility of the museum, institution, or Federal agency that has control of the Native American cultural item. The National Park Service is not responsible
for the determinations in this notice.
This statement shows that these entities acted on their own outside of the legal guidelines of NAGPRA in an attempt to create an overreaching precedent.
Thomas Jefferson himself in July of 1793 in a letter to Spanish representatives who had leveled accusations of bribery of tribal leaders with large pieces of silver defined what was inferred by the gift of medals to prominent visitors and foreign dignitaries;
Giving medals and marks of distinction to the Indian Chiefs. This
is but blindly hinted at in this letter, but was more pointedly
complained of in the former. This has been an antient Custom
from time immemorial. The medals are considered as
complimentary things, as marks of friendship to those who come
to see us, or who do us good offices, conciliatory of their good will
towards us, and not designed to produce a contrary disposition
towards others, They confer no power, and seem to have taken
their origin in the European practice of giving medals or other
marks of friendship to the negotiators of treaties, and other
diplomatic Characters, or visitors of distinction. The British
government, while it prevailed here, practised the giving Medals,
Gor gets, and Bracelets to the Savages invariably. We have
continued it, and we did imagine, without pretending to know,
that Spain also did it
The value of George Washington Peace medals and other similar relics would double overnight with the realization that the definition of “an object of cultural patrimony” had to clearly be considered owned by the group….
AT THE TIME IT WAS SEPARATED FROM WHICHEVER NATIVE AMERICAN GROUP MAKING THE REPATRIATION REQUESTS AT THE TIME IT WAS SEPARATED FROM SAID GROUP.
Enough is enough. It’s time to be an American with ideals based in freedom and law as it is written. These things are sacred and bastardization of this by the likes of those involved in twisting fact to suit their agenda needs to be confronted and rejected.
After reading many press releases about the medal, I have to ask… if that is in fact supposed to be “Red Jacket” portrayed with George Washington on the medal, where is his red jacket? A better interpretation (especially considering the medals were made prior to Washington meeting Red Jacket) would be that it depicts a “Pine Tree Chief” in general as the figure in question is standing under a pine tree. Referring to a chief who makes peace.
I leave you with the words of Ely Parker to Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, “We are all Americans here”.
(I would at this point have to add “start acting like it”)
https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international- journal-of-cultural-property/article/abs/concept-of- cultural-affiliation-in-nagpra-its-potential-and-limits-in-
https://www.wgrz.com/article/news/local/red-jacket- peace-medal-returned-to-the-seneca-nation/71-4eec9b82- f3f0-43f1-ae14-4915911266d7
https://indiancountrytoday.com/the-press-pool/red-jacket- peace-medal-welcomed-back-to-rightful-home-with- seneca-nation
https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/ 2021/06/03/red-jackets-peace-medal-returned-seneca- nation-buffalo-museum/5240459001/https:/
https://books.google.com/books? id=UFhIAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA326-IA4&lpg=PA326- IA4&dq=red+jacket+club+buffalo+historical+society&so urce=bl&ots=K31bYVPI0z&sig=ACfU3U2D2NwY7cH mDjWmF9hsF6fyD9eVAw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKE wi4lvH2gPj1AhVCn- AKHZAYAfEQ6AF6BAhQEAM#v=onepage&q=red%20 jacket%20club%20buffalo%20historical%20society&f=fa lse
https://books.google.com/books? id=mn87AQAAMAAJ&pg=RA7-PA383&lpg=RA7- PA383&dq=seneca+tribe+and+matrimonial+lineage&sou rce=bl&ots=rBg6GG2yL0&sig=ACfU3U38UhJgR2wwG QrfoRBdS8ozw5oWYg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwil 7- Gxvvr1AhWunOAKHRgXC24Q6AF6BAgkEAM#v=one page&q=seneca%20tribe%20and%20matrimonial%20line age&f=false
https://books.google.com/books? id=cBAbAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA146&lpg=PA146&dq=red +jacket+deposed+as+chief+1827+signed+by+25+chiefs& source=bl&ots=kawCYZQFeb&sig=ACfU3U2dQ9DivLb gdNcmDKhXX90SmQ9wgg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUK Ewi38JCIjP31AhXymXIEHcz4DBoQ6AF6BAgkEAM#v =onepage&q=red%20jacket%20deposed%20as%20chief %201827%20signed%20by%2025%20chiefs&f=false
WALTER MAYER – NOTICE OF INTENT TO REPATRIATE “RED JACKET” MEDAL
these links represent only a fraction of research done on this subject, but does provide enough to realize my point and attempts to show cherry picked excerpts used in many of the mentioned press releases etc. in actual context or in many instances outright fabrications
I am joined by many in the belief the practices discussed is counter productive and damaging to the “cultural awareness” relics like this provide. It will eventually strip every easily accessible collection of anything of consequence. Allowing self determinations of objects under NAGPRA opens the door for federal funds to be awarded under false pretenses of “cultural affiliation” claims and not simply a decision or agreement between a
“Native American Group” and whichever federally funded institution they decide to target.