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Nick Bellantoni, the archaeologist nicknamed “Connecticut’s Indiana Jones,” will share highlights from his first book, The Long Journeys Home: The Repatriations of Henry ‘Opūkaha‘ia and Albert Afraid of Hawk, in a free presentation at the New Haven Museum at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 11, 2018.
Bellantoni will tell of Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia (c.1792–1818), a Native Hawaiian, and Itankusun Wanbli (c.1879–1900), an Oglala Lakota. c
ʻŌpūkahaʻia was orphaned during the turmoil of Kamehameha’s wars—which was fueled by European interventions. He found passage on a ship to New England, where he was converted to Christianity, becoming the inspiration for later Christian missions in Hawai’i.
Itankusun Wanbli, Christianized as Albert Afraid of Hawk, performed in Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West” to sustain himself after his traditional means of sustenance were taken by American settlers.
Both men, dying at young ages, were buried in Connecticut cemeteries. In 1992 and 2008, descendants of both men had callings, independent of one another, telling them that their ancestors wanted to come home. Thus began the repatriation process detailed in Nick Bellantoni’s heartfelt work. Then acting as Connecticut State Archaeologist, Bellantoni oversaw the archaeological disinterment, forensic identifications, and return of their skeletal remains back to their families and communities.
The Long Journeys Home chronicles these intergenerational stories as examples of the wide-reaching impact of colonization and European/American imperialism on the trajectory of Indigenous life in the new world. “These are deeply human stories,” Bellantoni says. “They remind us of how our collective and individual heritages contribute to our sense of self-esteem and the quality of our lives.”
Bellantoni’s role in the excavations, his interaction with the two families, and his participation in the repatriation process of both men have given him unique insights into the significance of repatriation and the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, which was enacted in 1990. His natural storytelling abilities make the book a vivid and memorable read and will undoubtedly captivate the New Haven Museum audience.
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