Are the Black Hills Cultural Property?

That was the provocative question posed by Melissa Tatum at the AALS Annual Meeting here in New Orleans last weekend. First, a little background.  The Black Hills are a beautiful but small mountain range extending from South Dakota into Wyoming.  Today the region is home to Mount Rushmore, numerous National monuments, the in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  But of course before 19th century Americans moved to the area, it was the home of indigenous groups; first the Cheyenne, and later the Lakota.

Apologies for any mistakes in this history, but as I understand it in 1868, the United States signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which essentially gave the Lakota nation ownership of the Black Hills.  This treaty was signed after the Lakota defeated U.S. forces.  Soon after though this treaty was violated until it was eventually revoked.  Tatum noted that the city of Deadwood was founded at this time, and references the recent HBO show.  “Deadwood” was set in the 1870’s, and was based on the real life people and events of the town’s early history.  The town began as a mining camp, in an area outside of the law.  The very founding of the camp was illegal, as the land was owned by the Lakota people.  The show examines this lawlessness in a number of ways.  In the real Deadwood, it was the discovery of gold which brought miners to the area.  This led to armed conflict (including Custer’s defeat) which culminated in 1877 when the Federal governemnt seized control of the Black Hills for good.  

In 1980, the Sioux nation won a hard fought court victory.  United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, 448 U.S. 371 (1980).  The Supreme Court upheld an award for the value of the land in 1877, along with 103 years of interest.  However the Sioux have refused to accept this sum, and instead want the return of the land. 

Against this background, Tatum asked whether existing Cultural Property law might provide a remedy allowing the Sioux to secure the return of the land itself.  In so doing, she moved the conversation beyond the typical repatriation request and instead challenged some of the basing foundations of cultural property law itself.  She argued property should be amended to offer legal definitions which are more culture-specific.  Tatum also asked whether the Black Hills might fit within some of the definitions of cultural property as provided in the 1954 Hague Convention, and various UNESCO conventions, including the 1970 Convention.  She offered as one solution, the potential for multiple cultures to use and enjoy public lands.  This is the current model in many Federal land management systems. 

Tatum put cultural property scholarship into concrete terms, pointing out why the Sioux should be entitled to some remedy, and offering a pointed critique of the current flaws in cultural property law.  I’m very much looking forward to the final paper. 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Soft Cultural Power

The Economist examines how well UNESCO manages its list of World Heritage Sites:

This year’s most dramatic move was a rare decision to strip a place—Dresden and the surrounding Elbe valley—of its status as a “World Heritage Site”: that is, a location deemed to be of universal worth to humanity by virtue of its built environment, ecological importance or both.

The German metropolis, belatedly restored to its Baroque glory after massive wartime bombing, was punished because of a motorway bridge that threatens to wreck the skyline. (The only other place to have been delisted is an antelope sanctuary in Oman, where the government actually wanted to renounce the status.) Meanwhile UNESCO accepted 13 new sites, including a sacred peak in Kyrgyzstan and a fortress in Burkina Faso, bringing to 890 the number of places under its purview.

What makes this whole procedure tolerable (and indeed, respected) is that it is a voluntary arrangement between governments, with groups of states taking turns to form committees that duly exercise UNESCO’s moral power. At least in theory, it is not the permanent staff of the World Heritage Centre (a smallish part of the UNESCO bureaucracy) who exercise dominion over the glories of the earth, but the 186 states that have ratified the World Heritage Convention and thus signed up to the notion that some places are too precious to be left at the mercy of one government alone.

 For an earlier post on the promise and peril of declaring an area a World Heritage Site, see this earlier post

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

The Challenge of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Simon Usborne has an extended piece for the Telegraph examining the difficult task UNESCO has in selecting and preserving heritage sites. A number of pressures make this a difficult task, from too many visitors to looting to environmental or other factors. Pictured here is Monte Albán near Oaxaca, Mexico. The site is reportedly under threat as its carvings are exposed to the elements, it has been looted, and a nearby fire damaged it in 2006. The site is a World Heritage Site, which brings visitors and attention, but not perhaps enough resources for protection, preservation or crowd management.

One difficulty is the huge number of sites the agency is responsible for:

Unesco insists all its sites adhere to strict rules about management and planning, but could it be that the task facing the organisation – effectively to protect the planet – has become so daunting as to be impossible? If it has, the man in charge must have one of the toughest jobs in the world. Speaking from his Paris office, Francesco Bandarin admits it’s a tall order. “Sometimes you feel it’s impossible to control everything, especially when you look at our founding principles,” he says. “Our list is growing and the number of requests is growing, and it seems like the more work you do the more you get. It’s a very big job – too big.”
Bandarin suggests a solution would be to maintain a central committee, but to break some of the bureaucracy by handing partial autonomy to an “effective network of heritage institutes”. Unesco has launched a review of its practises and Bandarin expects big changes by 2012, when World Heritage turns 40. “It’s the only way we can cope with the crazy volume of work,” he says.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Student Comment on American Cultural Heritage Law

Katherine D. Vitale has posted on SSRN her Student Comment, The War on Antiquities: United States Law and Foreign Cultural Property, 84 Notre Dame L. R. 101 (2009). 

She criticizes the general trend of American cultural heritage policy, and is far too kind I think to museums and antiquities dealers generally.  She has some very interesting things to say about the AAMD Guidelines, and does a very good job putting the recent California searches in context, perhaps helping to explain why a year has elapsed with little apparent progress.  

From the Abstract:

The use of the National Stolen Property Act and Archaeological Resources Protection Act as mechanisms to protect cultural property taken from a foreign state through prosecution of individuals who buy, sell, and otherwise deal in such property is in direct tension with the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”), a statute enacted in accordance with an international treaty to which the United States is a party. This Note explores how criminal liability under United States law for museum officials and others who acquire art, archaeological materials, and especially antiquities, originating in foreign nations conflicts with CPIA’s treatment of foreign cultural property. Part I discusses the principle of protection of cultural property in international law and the manifestation of this principle in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (“1970 UNESCO Convention”). Part II examines the 1970 UNESCO Convention’s influence on United States civil law and policy regarding foreign cultural property, and on the acquisitions policies of international and domestic museums. Part III discusses criminal penalties under both the National Stolen Property Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act for those who knowingly acquire stolen foreign cultural property. Part IV analyzes the conflict between policies on foreign cultural property followed by the United States and domestic museums and the application of criminal penalties in art-trafficking cases. In addition, this Part explores the consequences of the conflict for both the United States and individuals, and suggests resolutions to the conflict through law. Finally, Part V concludes that in order for the United States to fulfill its obligation under the 1970 UNESCO Convention, it must stop conducting a war on antiquities-and those who acquire them.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Preserving Babylon

Christopher Torchia and Ammar Al-Musawi have an interesting article for the AP on UNESCO efforts to rescue the ancient city of Babylon.

Now, for the first time, global institutions led by the U.N. are thoroughly documenting the damage and how to fix it. A UNESCO report due out early next year will cite Saddam’s construction but focus, at the Iraqi government’s request, on damage done by U.S. forces from April to September 2003, and the Polish troops deployed there for more than a year afterward.

The U.S., which turned Babylon into a military base, says the looting would have been worse but for the troops’ presence. The U.S. also says it will help rehabilitate Babylon, funding an effort by the World Monuments Fund and Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, but has yet to release precise funding figures.

Archaeologists hope the effort will lead someday to new digging to follow up on the excavations done by a German team in the early 1900s.

“The site is tremendously important,” said Gaetano Palumbo of the New York City-based World Monuments Fund. Yet in its present state, Babylon is “hardly understandable, as a place where so much happened in history.”

The damage at Babylon is a tragedy, but hopefully the damage done can be reversed and the site can be protected and preserved for enjoyment and study. Perhaps the slew of Babylon-centered exhibits and books detailed by the Art Newspaper will help to raise awareness.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Meaningful Discourse

There is a core of agreement even among the most diametrically opposed heritage advocates.

For example on Wednesday of this week the BBC program Today featured a brief piece with James Cuno and Colin Renfrew debating some of the foundational issues of heritage policy. What I find striking, is how to the casual observer much of what Cuno and Renfrew are discussing would appear to not be too far apart. They’ll both agree I think that the looting of sites is a problem, and museums should not acquire stolen or looted antiquities and works of art. They will disagree vigorously on what exactly constitutes ‘stolen’ or ‘looted’.

I’d argue that the disagreement, and much of the petty argument which takes place on the nets and at conferences actually makes the task of all sides more difficult, and is counterproductive. I’d like to see some real meaningful discourse, and a lot less sniping and unproductive exaggerations on both sides. Sadly all too often the disagreements make the american electoral process look sane and measured in comparison, not an easy task. The end result is a situation where the public often does not know how or why these issues matter.

Take for example the recent Interpol Symposium on the Theft of and Illicit Traffic in Works of Art,Cultural Property and Antiques in which a “lack of awareness among the general public of the importance of cultural heritage and the need for it to be protected,” and recommend that “INTERPOL, UNESCO and ICOM: Jointly seek ways of raising awareness among law-enforcement services, those responsible for safeguarding religious heritage, the major players in the art market and the conservation world, and the general public, with regard to protecting cultural property and combating illegal trafficking.” (via).

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

UNESCO Takes UK to Task

Severin Carrell has an interesting story in the Guardian on UNESCO’s concerns over how the UK is protecting and preserving these ancient sites:

Edinburgh
Site The “remarkable” medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town of central Edinburgh [Pictured Above] were listed in 1995.
Problem Unesco fears several building projects in the city centre and Leith docks will damage the site’s architectural heritage. It “deeply regrets” the city has approved a hotel, office and housing complex by the Royal Mile, and is sending inspectors to visit.

Stonehenge and Avebury
Site The neolithic stone circle and avenues, and the associated megalith circles at Avebury, were listed in 1986.
Problem A cause of anxiety for 22 years, Unesco is angry that plans to reroute the A344 with a tunnel and build an offsite visitors’ centre have again been scrapped. It “regrets” the continued delays and “urges” ministers to act quickly.

Neolithic ruins, Orkney
Site Skara Brae, Maeshowe and the Ring of Brodgar were among the ancient sites listed in 1999.
Problem Three planned wind turbines will be visible and Unesco wants the project stopped. Historic Scotland agrees they will damage it. A public inquiry will report soon. 

Bath
Site The city’s grand neo-classical Georgian crescents, terraces and squares were listed in 1987.
Problem Unesco fears plans to build 2,000 flats in buildings up to nine storeys, and an engineering school sponsored by James Dyson, will damage the site’s setting. It is sending inspectors and wants the schemes blocked until its committee has studied the plans.

Liverpool
Site Its maritime mercantile city, with its churches and Georgian warehouses, was listed in 2004.
Problem Unesco is happy the city swiftly acted on concerns that a new museum, a 24-storey tower and a new conference centre threatened the site’s setting and integrity. Unesco wants further action to protect it.

Westminster, London
Site The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church were listed in 1987.
Problem Unesco believes several new tower blocks, including the 170-metre Beetham tower in Southwark and a 144m tower at Doon Street, will affect the site. It is annoyed its demands for a buffer zone and a detailed study of the skyline have been ignored.

Tower of London
Site The Norman tower and its 13th-century walls were listed in 1988.
Problem New buildings, such as the 66-storey “shard of glass” tower and a 39-floor tower at Fenchurch Street, will dominate the skyline. Unesco “regrets” the UK has failed to implement a robust buffer zone or an effective local plan. It is threatening to put the tower on its “world heritage in danger” list.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com