Recommendation concerning the return of the so-called Greenland Eskimo in the Westfries Museum in Hoorn

The Westfries Museum in Hoorn owns since a long time the human remains ot what they claim, is a Greenland Eskimo. These remains consist of parts of the skin of the arm, back and head of presumably a man who was found around 200 years ago in Greenland or was washed ashore in The Netherlands. These remains along with a kayak, were on display in the 1998 exhibition entitled Botje bij Botje in the Kunsthal in Rotterdam. Requests from the Actiegroep Arctic Peoples Alert, residing in The Hague, and from the Greenland Government to return these human remains have resulted in much publicity. Before making a decision on this matter the Management Committee of the Westfries Museum is consulting the NMV (The Dutch Museum Association) on their policy concerning:
1. The ''return'' of museum objects to the countries of origin in general.
2. The return of human remains in particular.
This Committee wrote to the Director of the NMV in March 1999, who forwarded it to the Ethics Committee of the Museum Association.

The Ethics Committee of the Museum Association discussed the matter during their meetings of July 26th and October 12th 1999. The Committee making this recommendation consisted of:
Professor E.J. Dommering (president), Mr.F. Grijzenhout, Mr. W.H. Vroom, Mr. H. Leyten and Mr. P.M. Witteman. Also present were: Mrs. A. Vels Heijn (Director of NMV) and Mrs. R.F.V.M. van Kempen-Smits (secretary)

The Committee considers the use of language rather careless. The word Eskimo was introduced by foreigners and is a pejorative description of part of the population of Greenland and other arctic areas who call themselves in general Inuit. By adding the word 'Greenland', the impression is given that the human remains belong definitely to an inhabitant of that country. However, this is not proven. The press referred repeatedly to a mummy. This is not correct, as there are only pads of a skin naturally tanned (by seawater?) or treated by a chirurgeon in the 18 century.

The Committee will henceforth refer to the human remains of an Inuit.


The Committee is of the opinion that questions in relation to the return of human remains have to be treated in principle as a return of cultural property in accordance with clause 4.4.
sub b of the Guidelines for museum professional ethics.
If, however, the request for return specifically refers to the burial of the requested human remains the Committee is of the opinion that:
1. Human remains are according to the Museum Guidelines everything that formed part of a human body and can be traced back to a specific individual.
2. The Committee is of the opinion that the desire for burial is a specific concern which can prevaiL over the interest qf retaining cultural property.
3. The request for return of specific human remains for burial has to be made by one or more putative relatives who are entitled to do so.
4. The request for return of specific human remains for burial can only be honoured if there is a close family link between the specific human remains and the party that put the request forward. The family link has to be established through genetic research (such as DNA test) or documented through other facts and circumstances, such as place of origin and a relative short time span between the dating of the human remains and the request for return.
5. The party that puts the request forward has to prove kinship.
6. In case kinship to the requested human remains is proven, they can be returned provided burial will take place.
7. If kinship to the human remains is not proven, the specific concern of burial is abrogated and only the cultural aspect of the human remains will apply.
In that case clause 4.4. sub b of the Guidelines for museum professional ethics prevails.