The Nez Perce Tribe (Tribe) is preparing to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the return of the Spalding-Allen Collection (Collection) with a renaming celebration. The event is scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 26th, 2021 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Tribe and Nez Perce National Historical Park (Park) will host the renaming celebration at Spalding, ID; the original place of acquisition by Reverend Henry H. Spalding from individual Nez Perce tribal members.
Nakia Cloud-Williamson, Nez Perce Tribal member and Director of the Nez Perce Tribe Cultural Resource Program explains, “The renaming of this collection is a significant step to reclaiming ownership of one of the most significant ethnographic collections in existence. More importantly, renaming helps us in rejecting colonialism and its impacts on our ‘way of life’.”
The Nez Perce will always be a people deeply rooted to the land from which they come. The Spalding-Allen Collection demonstrates how embedded even the material items of the Nez Perce, those that traveled the longest of colonial journeys, will eventually find their way home. From 1836-1846 Spalding acquired 21 Nez Perce artifacts traditionally worn, or used by, men, women, children, and horses, which were later sent to Spalding’s benefactor Dr. Dudley Allen. In 1893, after Dr. Allen’s death, his son donated the Collection to Oberlin College, who later loaned most of the collection to the Ohio Historical Society, now known as the Ohio History Connection (OHC). In 1976, Bill Holm, Curator of the Burke Museum at the University of Washington informed the curator at the Park about the Spalding-Allen artifacts at the OHC. The Park reached out to the museum and after some negotiations, OHC agreed to loan the collection to the Park with an annual loan renewal agreement starting in 1980. In 1993, OHC demanded the return of the collection.
Rather than donating the items to the Tribe, OHC eventually agreed to sell the collection at its full appraised value of $608,100. The Tribe was given a six-month deadline to provide the money. With the help of thousands of donors, the Tribe was successful in raising the full amount, and on June 26, 1996 the Tribe brought home the oldest, largest, and most well preserved artifact collection of the Plateau people.
“These items traveled extensively before finally returning home 25 years ago. We want to honor that journey and recognize the tremendous amount of effort that was required to make it happen. Without the help of thousands of people, the reacquisition would not have happened. We look forward to presenting this collection with a name that is representative of our culture and way of life,” stated Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman, Shannon Wheeler. “We know there are other lost artifacts out there; hopefully they can return home someday as well.”
The collection, owned by the Tribe, is physically stored by the Park in a dedicated space designed to meet museum standards and requirements for the best preservation, protection, and accessibility of the collection. The majority of the collection will be on display at the Park’s Visitor Center from June 19, 2021 to September 19, 2021.