DePaul University College of Law > About > Centers & Institutes > Center for Art, Museum & Cultural Heritage Law > Our Work > Symposia > Restitution & Repatriation: The Return of Cultural Objects

Restitution & Repatriation: The Return of Cultural Objects

The mission of this symposium was to bring together students, lawyers, museum professionals, representatives of indigenous communities, archaeologists, and other scholars and experts in the field of cultural heritage to examine the myriad issues that can arise when claims are made for the return of cultural artifacts. 

Within this broad topic, the symposium's distinguished panelists and moderators discussed the repatriation of cultural objects appropriated in the more distant past whose restitution some view as outside the scope of existing law, but others view as a matter of restitutionary justice. They also addressed the repatriation of artifacts looted in recent times whose removal is thought to cause contemporary damage to the cultural heritage of communities and nations and to the historical and cultural record. In discussing these issues, the panelists examined: the underlying legal, ethical and moral reasons and policies behind the return of cultural objects; the justification for repatriation requests; evidentiary concerns; researching provenance; museum issues, and the conflicting ethical concerns that confront attorneys in attempting to resolve restitution claims. 

  • Repatriation: Brief Synopsis
  • Symposium Program
  • Featured Lecturer
  • Panelists & Moderators
  • Sponsors

Repatriation: Brief Synopsis

In recent years, countries of origin have successfully recovered illegally removed archaeological and ethnographic objects. Indigenous and Native American communities also have successfully recovered cultural artifacts excavated from ancient burial sites but have had less success in cases of international repatriation. Claims for recovery are based on a patchwork of legal rules, treaties and extra-legal pressure placed on the current possessor. U.S. indigenous communities have recovered cultural artifacts within the legal structure of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), but museums have acted outside of NAGPRA as well. 

The museum community and some market participants now accept that archaeological objects unprovenanced before 1970 should not be acquired without proof of legal export. However, countires of origin have recently sought to move beyond the "1970 rule" and they, as well as indigenous communities, are seeking the repatriation of objects appropriated during earlier times through imperialism, colonialism, or armed conflict. The underlying bases supporting repatriation in such cases are often unclear, and the validity of these repatriation claims is hotly debated. Tensions can also arise when a fiduciary duty arguably conflicts with a perceived legal or moral obligation to return cultural objects. 

​​Well-known examples of historical claims include Nigeria's request for repatriation of the Benin bronzes that British troops removed during the 1897 "Punitive Expedition"; China's efforts to seek the return of the bronze animal heads, once part of the zodiac fountain clock in the Yuanming Yuan garden of the Old Summer Palace that French and English troops looted and burned in 1860, and the recent move by Turkey to recover antiquities taken before 1970.

Symposium Program

8:00-8:30   Breakfast and Registration
8:30-8:40   Welcome
8:40-9:00   Introduction and Background
9:00-10:15

Provenance Research
As it has become increasingly important for participants in the art market to ​avoid acquiring stolen or looted cultural materials, provenance research has taken on a greater role in the decision to acquire cultural artifacts and in helping to prevent the market from contributing to illegal conduct. This panel will look at provenance research from market and legal perspectives.

Moderator:

  • Morag Kersel, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, DePaul University

Speakers:

  • Victoria Reed, Curator for Provenance, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • Title: "Due Diligence, Provenance Research, and the Acquisition Process at an Encyclopedic Museum"

  • Christopher Rollston, National Endowment for the Humanities research scholar, Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem
  • Title: "Protocols and Procedures for a Responsible Approach to Inscriptions from the Antiques Market"

  • Stephen Nash, Department Chair and Curator of Archaeology, Denver Museum of Nature and Science
  • Title: Diligence, Ethics, and the Preservation Process at a Natural History Museum.

  • Peter Neiman, Partner, WilmerHale
  • Title: "The Role of Provenance Research in Developing Legal Cases"

10:15-10:30    Break
10:30-11:45

Museum Acquisitions
The two major museum organizations in the United States, the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Alliance of Museums, have adopted guidelines for their member museums concerning acquisitions of antiquities that do not have a pre-1970 provenance. This panel will explore the AAMD Object Registry and the relationship between the looting of archaeological sites and the acquisition of unprovenanced or inadequately provenanced archaeological objects. This panel will also explore the question of what will happen with those objects that U.S. museums are no longer expected to acquire.

Moderator:

  • Julie Getzels, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Art Institute of Chicago

Speakers:

  • Susan Taylor, Montine McDaniel Freeman Director, New Orleans Museum of Art

    Title: "AAMD & The Object Registry: A Summary Perspective"

  • Richard Leventhal, Director, Penn Cultural Heritage Center; Professor, University of Pennsylvania Department of Anthropology; and Curator, American Section of the Penn Museum

    Title: "There are No Orphaned Objects"

  • Frank Lord, Associate, Herrick Feinstein LLP

    Title: “The AAMD, Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art: New Guidelines, Old Problems”

11:45-1:15

Featured Lecture and Luncheon

  • Jack Trope, Executive Director, Association on American Indian Affairs
  • Title: "The Long Journey: Establishing Repatriation of Indigenous Human Remains and Cultural Items as an International Norm"

1:15-2:30

Historical Appropriations: When 1970 is Not Enough
Even as museums and market participants accept that they should not acquire antiquities that are not provenanced before 1970, countries of origin have increasingly sought to recover antiquities and other cultural artifacts that were taken in the nineteenth and earlier parts of the twentieth century. Case studies will be presented to explore the legal and moral aspects of these calls for repatriations.

Moderator:

  • Patty Gerstenblith, Distinguished Research Professor of Law, DePaul University, and Director, Center for Art, Museum & Cultural Heritage Law

Speakers:

  • Charles Brian Rose, James B. Pritchard Professor of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Pennsylvania
  • Title: "Beyond the UNESCO Convention: the Case of the Troy Gold in the Penn Museum"

  • Rebecca Tsosie, Regent’s Professor of Law, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University
  • Title: "Reparative Justice and the Repatriation of Indigenous Cultural Heritage: The Conundrum of 'Moral Rights' versus 'Legal Rights'"

  • Hugh Eakin, Senior Editor, The New York Review of Books
  • Title: "Doing the Right Thing?" Repatriation and the Museum Mission"

  • Marc-André Renold, Director, Art-Law Centre, University of Geneva
  • Title: "Dispute Resolution Processes in Cultural Heritage Law: the Interplay Between Law and Ethics"

2:30-4:00

Ethics Panel: Conflicting Duties: When to Repatriate (and When Not To)
This panel, which will qualify for CLE Ethics credit, will explore the issues that attorneys need to consider before their clients (particularly museums, auction houses and private collectors) agree to repatriate a cultural object in light of fiduciary obligations to conserve a museum’s or consignor’s resources and assets, in the international antiquities context and in the NAGPRA context.​

Moderator:

  • Thomas R. K​​line, Of Counsel, Andrews Kurth LLP; Assistant Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University, Museum Studies

Speakers:

  • Thomas R. Kline, Of Counsel, Andrews Kurth LLP; Assistant Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University, Museum Studies
  • Title: "Approaching Conflicting Duties-The Role and Responsibilities of Institutional Lawyers in Dealing with Objects Having Title Issues"

  • Simon Frankel, Partner, Covington & Burling LLP; Lecturer in Law, Stanford University
  • Title: "The Duties and Obligations of Museums in Responding to Restitution Demands"

  • Lori Breslauer, Acting General Counsel, Field Museum of Natural History
  • Title: "Bridging the Gap: The Interplay Between NAGPRA’s Requirement to Repatriate and Trustees’ Fiduciary Obligation to Preserve Museum Collections"

  • Jane Levine, Worldwide Director of Compliance, Sotheby’s
  • Title: "The Auction House Perspective on Claims and Requests for Repatriation"

4:00    Reception​​

Featured Lecturer

Jack F. Trope is the Executive Director of the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) and is located in Rockville, Maryland. AAIA is a 91 year old Indian advocacy and service organization. An all-Native Board governs AAIA and represents a diversity of tribes and geography.

Before joining AAIA in 2001, Mr. Trope was Director of the Western Area Office in New Mexico for the Save the Children Federation. Prior to his stint at Save the Children, Mr. Trope held a number of legal positions, including having been a partner with the law firm of Sant’Angelo & Trope for 8 years, a senior staff attorney with AAIA for 6 years and an Assistant Counsel to two New Jersey governors in the 1980s. Much of his legal work has focused in the areas of Native cultural preservation, including the protection of sacred lands and repatriation issues, and Indian child welfare.

Mr. Trope played an instrumental role in obtaining the enactment of and working to implement the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), including working with tribes and Native organizations on specific repatriations. He has also worked with tribes to protect their sacred places, including representing the Medicine Wheel Coalition in negotiations with the Forest Service which culminated a ground-breaking programmatic agreement and historic preservation plan to protect the sacred Bighorn Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain in Wyoming. He has authored numerous articles, narrated videos, and conducted workshops on the protection of sacred places and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. He is currently overseeing an AAIA project whose goal is to promote the international repatriation of human remains and cultural items.

Mr. Trope has also been involved with Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) implementation issues since 1985 in a variety of capacities. He has worked on tribal-state agreements, litigated child welfare cases, drafted tribal child welfare codes, provided training on ICWA, the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), Title IV-E, and tribal governance issues and advocated for changes in federal law enhancing the ability of tribes to operate child welfare programs through such laws as the 2006 reauthorization of the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act and the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. He has authored a number of articles on child welfare issues, including a paper on the legal requirements of Title IV-E for the NCAI Policy Research Center. Over the last few years, Mr. Trope has expanded his work involving children at risk to include juvenile justice issues.

Mr. Trope currently serves as a Board member for the Native Ways Federation, a consortium of seven national Indian non-profit organizations, and the American Indian Ritual Object Repatriation Foundation. He graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School and summa cum laude from Rutgers College.

Panelists & Moderators

Featured Lecturer
Jack Trope, Executive Director, Association on American Indian Affairs

Panelists
Lori Breslauer, Acting General Counsel, Field Museum of Natural History
Thomas R. Kline, Of Counsel, Andrews Kurth LLP and Assistant Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University, Museum Studies
Frank Lord, Associate, Herrick Feinstein LLP
Victoria Reed, Curator for Provenance, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Charles Brian Rose, James B. Pritchard Professor of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Pennsylvania
Simon Frankel, Partner, Covington & Burling LLP and Lecturer in Law, Stanford University
Richard M. Leventhal, Director, Penn Cultural Heritage Center and Professor, University of Pennsylvania Department of Anthropology
Stephen Nash, Department Chair and Curator of Archaeology, Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Marc-André Renold, Director, Art-Law Centre, University of Geneva
Susan Taylor, Montine McDaniel Freeman Director, New Orleans Museum of Art
Hugh Eakin, Senior Editor, The New York Review of Books 
Jane Levine, Worldwide Director of Compliance, Sotheby's
Peter Neiman, Partner, Wilmer Hale
Christopher Rollston, National Endowment for the Humanities Research Scholar, Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem
Rebecca Tsosie, Regent's Professor of Law, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Arizona State University

Moderators
Patty Gerstenblith, Distinguished Research Professor of Law, DePaul University College of Law and Director, Center for Art, Museum & Cultural Heritage Law
Julie Getzels, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Art Institute of Chicago
Morag Kersel, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, DePaul University
Thomas R. Kline, Of Counsel, Andrews Kurth LLP and Assistant Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University, Museum Studies

Sponsors

​​​Co​​vington & Burling LLP
Herrick Feinstein LLP
Andrews Kurth LLP
DePaul University Research Council

DePaul University College of Law is an accredited CLE provider. This event was approved for 7.75 CLE credits, including 1.5 Ethics credits.