More than a year after Brett Chapman first set out to get a Native American artifact returned to the Ponca tribe, the Tulsa attorney says his goal is complete.
Harvard University has returned a tomahawk that once belonged to Ponca Chief Standing Bear.
"It means a lot,” said Chapman. “It's a recognition one that we're still here. And it's a respectful act on their part too."
Chapman, who is a descendent of the Native American civil rights leader, sent a letter to Harvard in early 2021, asking University leaders to take the tomahawk out of the Peabody Museum and return it to the tribe.
"We're in this time where people are understanding that it is very important to give things like these back and to recognize maybe the history of these things," said Chapman.
Chapman says the artifact has deep meanings to tribal members. Standing Bear gave the tomahawk as a gift to an attorney representing him in a landmark civil rights case in 1879.
That tomahawk was eventually passed down and given to Harvard more than 100 years later. Chapman says the University has now not only agreed to return the tomahawk, but also funeral artifacts of a Ponca woman.
“That was actually a real-life person that had a real-life and they deserve to be treated with respect," said Chapman.
The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska now has possession of both and Chapman says future plans are in the works.
"If The Ponca tribe up there wants to put it in a museum, that's great,” said Chapman. “If they want to keep it tuckered away and make it a ceremonial item, that's their decision too."
Harvard University said in a release that this is part of increased efforts from the museum to return tribal artifacts to their tribes of origin.