ALBION, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan college will return a Native American war god idol to a southwestern U.S. tribe.

Albion College plans to give back the Ahayuda idol to the Zuni tribe during a private ceremony on Thursday, The Jackson Citizen Patriot reported .

"I believe for the Zuni, this is like a return of an ancestor," said Bille Wickre, an art history professor at the college.

The Zuni tribe has about 9,000 people who live predominantly in New Mexico, she said.

"I think they were very surprised to find that Albion College had one of these," Wickre said. "They're very rare."

The idol is about 2 feet (0.6 meters) long and dates back to the 19th century, according to school officials. Ahayuda are traditionally carved from Cottonwood trees that have been struck by lightning. The Ahayuda is a symbol of peace and protection, Wickre said.

"This object would have been carved specifically for religious purposes," Wickre said. "After its time of active use, it would have been put onto a secondary altar, where it would have continued to exercise its powers to protect the Zuni people, and in fact, protect the whole world. And on that altar, it would have been left to decay naturally."

Wickre said the school received the idol in 1973, though there are no records of how the original donor acquired the piece. The repatriation process began after Wickre discovered the idol in storage in 2015 and a scholar identified the artifact.

The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires cultural items be returned.


Information from: Jackson Citizen Patriot,