Delivered by: H.E. Ms Anna Jardfelt, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN in Geneva
On May 5th of this year, the Swedish Government approved a request to return 24 objects to the Yaqui indigenous people in Mexico. Among the objects was the ceremonial deer head Maaso Kova.
It is an honour to participate today to share Sweden’s experiences from the country engagement relating to the repatriation request for the Yaqui Maaso Kova.
In Sweden, museums are by law responsible for their own collection management and to assess repatriation requests. This meant that throughout much of the process the Museum of World Culture and the government agency The National Museums of World Culture were the main counterparts – while the final repatriation decision lay with the Government.
The first claims received, identifying the acquisition circumstances as grounds for repatriation, were carefully investigated by the museum. While the museum did not find justification on these grounds, a process of investigating the humanitarian and ethical aspects was initiated, in dialogue with the Yaqui people. The head of the museum agency visited Yaquis on both sides of the border, invited Yaquis to Sweden on two different occasions, and made other efforts to deepen the knowledge of the objects and the Yaqui conditions.
The fact that there were several stakeholders involved, in two different countries, contributed initially to making respective mandates somewhat unclear. EMRIP’s offer to provide guidance was therefore very much welcome.
In 2019 EMRIP’s country engagement was initiated. To facilitate the dialog, EMRIP asked parties to submit additional documentation in the case, and the museum agency carried out a new investigation. The documents submitted by Sweden consisted of a summary of the case, answers to EMRIP's questions about legislation and the agencies views on the acquisition, scanned letters and documents from the 1930s.
The parties met in March 2020 in a constructive special dialog facilitated by EMRIP in connection with the Expert Seminar on the Right to Repatriation of Ceremonial Objects and Human Remains under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in Vancouver, Canada. The parties were made up of representatives of Ocho Pueblos, Pascua, the International Indian Treaty Council, and the museum agency.
The dialogue helped identify a solution by which a repatriation could be carried out based on Article 15 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and Article 12 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
It was decided that the return would be facilitated by the Mexican MFA, in consultation and cooperation with the relevant federal agencies, including the National Institute for Indigenous Peoples and National Institute of Anthropology and History, as well as the Traditional Authorities of the Yaqui Ocho Pueblos and the Maaso Kova Committee.
In line with the Swedish Budget Act, the Museum submitted a petition to the Swedish government in May 2021 with a clear recommendation and request for the Government’s decision to return all 24 objects to the Yaqui in Mexico. The agency chose not to take a position on which of the 24 objects could be considered ceremonial but to consider them as a unit that should not be split. On May 5th of this year, the Swedish Government approved the request and the ceremony for return took take place on the 3rd of June at the Mexican Embassy in Stockholm. All stakeholders were present.
EMRIP’s qualified and skilled guidance throughout the process was crucial and highly appreciated by all Swedish parties involved. The importance of meeting face to face was highlighted by the museum as an important success factor.
Sweden stands up for the rights of indigenous peoples and we are deeply concerned that threats and attacks against indigenous human rights defenders continue to escalate in many parts of the world. We believe that this process displays the essential role played by civil society and is an example of how constructive dialogue can be used to overcome obstacles.
We sincerely hope that the return of the items to the Yaqui People can be a part of a healing process. For the museum agency, it would certainly be the beginning of a new phase in which all parts together can exchange and spread knowledge about Yaqui history and culture in past and present.
We cannot erase the wrongdoings from the past, but we can try do the right thing today.
Thank you chair