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Countries should return looted museum items

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France has announced that it will return 26 looted artifacts to Benin, marking the beginning of the process of returning all stolen artifacts in its national museums taken by force.

The artifacts include statues, royal thrones and sacred altars that were taken 129 years ago, according to “129-year journey nears end as France returns Benin treasures” by the Associated Press.

In 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron said that French museums should not be made up of African countries’ artifacts, but the country has only returned one item before this most recent announcement.

Throughout history, colonialism has been the root cause of many countries and people losing their culture for the sake of expansion. These artifacts were then put on display in a distasteful show of white supremacy.

And France is not the only country with a similar colonialist past. Other countries in Europe, like Great Britain, Germany and even here in the United States, have also looted from cultures they have sought to conquer.

Like France, Germany has started the process of returning West African artifacts that were sold to German museums by Britain. The Benin Bronzes will be returned to Nigeria next year, according to “Berlin moves forward on plans to return looted Benin Bronzes” by the Associated Press.

Here in the United States, we need to follow suit and address our own history of taking what doesn’t belong to us – particularly when it comes to Indigenous artifacts and remains. While Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in 1990, it has not been as effective as it should be.

According to the National NAGPRA 2020 Fiscal Report, 199,933 human remains have been found in American collections since 1990. Of those, 116,857 are awaiting consultation. There are currently 777,982 funerary artifacts waiting for consultation out of 2.56 million found since 1990. The numbers of human remains and artifacts that are waiting to be returned is high, but these numbers don’t reflect those in museums or that are unaccounted for.

Any country that is still harboring stolen artifacts and remains needs to take action and accountability and return them to the rightful owners. Colonialism is a dark history that many countries share, but the time to finally take accountability is by returning stolen artifacts and returning human remains to where they belong.

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