Graham Kilmer

Public Museum Returning Headdress to Forest County Potawatomi

Feathered hat originally confiscated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

By - Dec 8th, 2022 08:27 pm

Forest County Potawatomi headdress. Photo by Milwaukee Public Museum.

In 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confiscated a headdress from Forest County Potawatomi tribe member Dennis Shepard as part of a court case. Now that headdress is being returned to the tribe.

Since 2000, the headdress has been stored and maintained by Milwaukee Public Museum. Ellen Censky, museum president and CEO, said that the federal agency initially offered the piece to the Potowatomi Tribe, but the tribe declined. It was then offered to the museum.

Censky said she believes the tribe declined the headdress more than 20 years ago because it did not have a museum at the time or the ability to care for it.

“But we never put it on displayed or used it for educational purposes, because Forest County Potawatomi had asked us not to use it so,” Censky said Tuesday. “So we would really like to return this to Forest County Potawatomi.”

Censky appeared before the Parks and Culture Committee of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors because the more than four million items held in the museum’s collections are the property of Milwaukee County and held in public trust. The museum needs board approval to transfer an item.

In 2021, Jigwé (Donald Keeble), museum director for the Forest County Potawatomi Cultural Center, Library and Museum, wrote the Senior Collection Manager at MPM, seeking a return of the feathered hat. He said the tribe wished for the return of the item on behalf of Shepard’s family. Shepard passed away in 2014.

Jigwé is also the Forest County Potawatomi’s representative under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGRPA).

The board’s Committee on Parks and Culture unanimously voted in favor of returning the headdress. The full board must still approve the measure.

Sup. Sheldon Wasserman asked the museum for photos of the hat which he said was made using feathers from two hawks native to Wisconsin, the Red Tail Hawk and the Harrier Hawk. “I think it’s actually stunning,” Wasserman said.

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