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PAULINE JOHNSON AND THE (MISSING) WAMPUM BELT

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

From the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology – final note on the return of the wampum belts Pauline Johnson sold to George Heye for $500: “It is therefore recommended that the National Museum of the American Indian repatriate NMAI 008386.000 to the Haudenosaunee Standing Committee on Burial Rules and Regulations on behalf of the Six Nations of the Grand River.”




Pauline Johnson

CULTURAL AFFILIATION Although Ms Gilkison’s* record of the reading of NMAI 008683.000 does not provide enough definitive information to link it to any particular treaty or event, it can be reasonably argued that it records a political agreement between the British Crown and the Haudenosaunee at Grand River. The belt is particularly relevant to the people of the Six Nations at the Grand River, descendants of Loyalist [sic] Haudenosaunee, because it represents a promise made by the British Crown to their ancestors that “the government would never force the Indians to change their customs” (Gilkison 1928:50).

“Miss Gilkison, a granddaughter [of William Gilkison], is in possession of several letters, which Captain Gilkison sent to his son, Jasper (her father), when he was a young man in the employ of the wholesale house of Ferric & Co., Hamilton. Some extracts will prove of interest in illustration of the standards of this early Brantford citizen.” History of the County of Brant. Douglas Reville

Before Pauline Johnson’s acquisition of the belt between 1893 and 1905, Chief John Buck, Sr. was its custodian in his role as wampum keeper of the Confederacy belts of the Six Nations at the Grand River, and used it in a number of documented readings and ceremonies. As such the wampum belt (NMAI 008386.000) is culturally affiliated to the Haudenosaunee of the Six Nations of the Grand River.

Photo Lot 86-58 John Buck ( c. 1818 – 1893), titled Skanawati among other variants, was a leader of the Onondaga who lived near Ontario’s Grand River. He was the official keeper of the wampum records of the Iroquois, sometimes described as a firekeeper. Buck is third from left.


VII. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATION

The evidence presented in this report indicates this wampum belt is a Confederacy belt of the Haudenosaunee that records a political agreement between the Haudenosaunee of Grand River and the British Crown. As such, the belt has ongoing historical, traditional, and cultural importance central to the present-day Haudenosaunee of the Six Nations of the Grand River.

The belt was inappropriately alienated from the Haudenosaunee of Six Nations Reserve (now referred to as the Six Nations of the Grand River), first by one of the sons of the former wampum keeper, John Buck, Sr., and then again by E. Pauline Johnson who purchased the belt from Buck’s son and then sold it to George G. Heye for $500.


George Heye


A preponderance of the evidence suggests that NMAI 008386.000 meets the definition for the repatriation category “Object of Cultural Patrimony” as defined in the NMAI Act Amendments of 1996 (Public Law 104–278, Section 11A(b)), and reaffirmed in the NMAI Repatriation Policy Statement, Section III.C.4 (August 2010). It is therefore recommended that the National Museum of the American Indian repatriate NMAI 008386.000 to the Haudenosaunee Standing Committee on Burial Rules and Regulations on behalf of the Six Nations of the Grand River.”

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