In 1970, Seattle Art Museum (SAM) founder Richard Fuller purchased an Australian Aboriginal sacred object that the museum has never shown. Now it’s being returned, even though no one has asked SAM to do so.

The person responsible is SAM’s African art curator, Pamela McClusky, who apparently views such ceremonial objects in the same way that Australian Aboriginal elders see them: as physical manifestations of sacred ancestral beings and repositories of great spiritual power. Although the museum has a gallery devoted to Australian Aboriginal art, McClusky had no hesitation about returning the religious object, which only an initiated Australian Aboriginal male is supposed to see. Ironically, not even Australian Aboriginal elders who are pressing the repatriation issue around the world knew of its existence. For now, the National Museum of Australia will store the object temporarily while consultations proceed regarding its final return.