Education | Law

Museum hosts play and panel on Jim Thorpe repatriation dispute

Jim Thorpe. Photo from Wikipedia

The Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania will discuss the repatriation dispute involving legendary athlete and Olympian Jim Thorpe.

At the event tomorrow, activist Suzan Shown Harjo and attorney Mary Kathryn Nagle will stage a reading of their short play, “My Father’s Bones." It recounts the fight by Thorpe's sons to rebury his remains in Oklahoma, where he was born.

"Researching the play, we learned that Patsy burst into the funeral and, with the assistance of an Oklahoma State Trooper, removed his body,” Harjo, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last November, said in a press release. “She then proceeded to sell Jim Thorpe's body for a few thousand dollars to a town in Pennsylvania that hoped to use his body to attract tourism and enhance its local economy."

The play will be followed by a panel that will include Principal Chief George Thurman and Sandra Kaye Massey from the Sac and Fox Nation, of Oklahoma, and John Echohawk, the director of the Native American Rights Fund. They will discuss the legal battle to reclaim Thorpe's remains.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Thorpe's sons in a decision last October. The court said the community where Thorpe is buried does not have to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which allows lineal descendants to claim the remains of their ancestors.

Thorpe's sons asked for a hearing but the request was denied last week. They can petition the U.S. Supreme Court but the justices only take a small number of cases presented to them and they have never ruled in a NAGPRA dispute.

Thorpe, who was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, died in 1953. As he was about to buried in Oklahoma, his widow had the body taken to a newly-created borough in Pennsylvania called Jim Thorpe.

Tomorrow's event will broadcast at 5:30pm Eastern time at

Get the Story:
Penn Museum explores Jim Thorpe remains controversy (The Penn Current 2/11)
Penn Museum to host play on Jim Thorpe controversy (The Daily Pennsylvanian 2/11)
Appeals court affirms decision keeping Jim Thorpe's body in Carbon County (The Allentown Morning Call 2/11)

3rd Circuit Decision:
John Thorpe v. Borough of Jim Thorpe (October 23, 2014)

Oral Arguments from the Indianz.Com SoundCloud:

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