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The University Museum is now safe from earthquakes. One year ago, the museum was likely to suffer a natural disaster for housing a Zuni War God figure, according to Indian legend. "It had to be returned to a sacred shrine," University Museum Services Coordinator Pam Hearne said last week. "It is responsible for earthquakes." Museum officials were improperly housing the figure, which is considered a god by New Mexico's Zuni tribe, by displaying it in the Museum, since Zuni legend requires it be outside in a pueblo to "deteriorate" in the weather. But according to museum officials, fear of the deities was not the impetus to return the war god, which was held in the museum's collections until last November. Rather, it was the initial step in the Museum's efforts to return artifacts to American Indians, pre-empting a federal law by a few weeks. President Bush signed the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act on November 16, 1990, establishing a system to return select artifacts to Indian tribes. Currently the Museum is fulfilling the first stage of the law by completing a thorough inventory of its American collection. It will then notify the appropriate tribes that the University has artifacts that may belong to them. Although the University is actively working on the inventory, it is unable to begin sending letters since the U.S. Department of Interior has not yet announced the proper method to contact tribes, Hearne said. Vincent Pigott, acting associate director of the museum, added that the University will have to return little of its collection since it abides by stringent requirements regulating what it accepts. He said the University helped establish the national standards for the legality of acquiring artifacts. Not all Indian artifacts in the University's collection are considered property of the original tribes, since many were acquired as gifts or through excavations where the University was allowed to keep a portion of what it found, Hearne said. "The University Museum has one of the largest collections in the nation," Pigott said. "But it does very little collecting." Hearne said that the Interior Department will also determine how disputed ownerships will be settled through the courts. "It may be difficult to determine which splinter group owns the artifacts, or if it belongs to a museum," Hearne said. "In court, the burden of proof lies with the Indians."

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