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Repatriating rare books

Three books donated from the collection of Gerald Weiss. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

BIG CYPRESS — In the fall of 2021, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum received a large donation of books from Iretta Tiger, a tribal member from Hollywood who also works in the museum’s Collections Division. The nearly 100 books in the donation, many of which are rare and historically significant, relate to the cultures and traditions of various Indigenous tribes across North America.

The books once belonged to Gerald Weiss, a former professor of anthropology at Florida Atlantic University, who was living in Boca Raton. The collection included such books as “The League of the Iroquois,” “History of the Calumet Dance,” “The Delight Makers: A Novel of Prehistoric Pueblo Indians,” and “Sandpaintings of the Navaho Shootingway and The Walcott Collection.”

Sadly, Weiss passed away in April 2021 and it was when his daughter, Ana, began clearing out his estate that the collection of books was found. Tiger had been assisting Ana with the organizing of her father’s belongings, and she offered to bring the books to the museum. The goal was to return the individual books to their respective tribes.

While the Collections Division at the museum added 27 of the books to its own library and archives, the mission also began to repatriate the others. With dozens of Native American tribes being represented in these books, the challenge was to find the appropriate contacts. Staff started reaching out to tribal museums, cultural centers, and libraries across the continent with the hope that the books could be returned to the communities in which they belong.

Since October 2021, 32 books have been returned to the following locations: Seneca Iroquois National Museum, Navajo Nation Library, Pawnee Nation’s Historic Preservation Office, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Blackfeet Community College, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Historic Preservation Office, Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe’s Historic Preservation Office, Akwesasne Library, Oneida Nation Museum, Natchitoches Tribe of Louisiana, Pamunkey Indian Museum and Cultural Center, Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center, Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre, Winnebago Little Priest Tribal College, and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center.

An additional 30 volumes and annual reports from the Bureau of American Ethnology have also been sent to the University of Florida, where they will become part of the collection at the Humanities and Social Sciences Department.

The final book in the donation, “Zuni Fetishes” by Frank Hamilton Cushing, proved to be more of a challenge to repatriate. However, that book was finally mailed to the Zuni community’s A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center in mid-July.

Tiger is thrilled to see so many of the books returned to their proper homes where they can be enjoyed by tribal members, researchers, museum visitors and surrounding communities alike. Another unexpected benefit of these repatriation efforts comes from the valuable connections formed between the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and the other tribal organizations.

Many of these museums and libraries were both eager and grateful for the donations, and bridges have now been built through this process. It is the hope that these connections may continue to grow in the future. For now, Tiger and the other members of the Collections Division are gratified to know these culturally important books are back where they belong.

To learn more about this project, or to view the books and objects within the museum’s collection, please contact or visit us on Big Cypress. You can also check out the museum’s collection online here.

One of the books accessioned into the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s permanent collection. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)
The Navajo Nation Library tags the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in a Facebook post about the donated books. (Facebook)