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More than 120 Native American remains repatriated

By Jen Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 15, 2012

The remains of more than 120 Native American individuals were repatriated from the University Museum of Anthropology, according to the Ziibiwing Cultural Society.

The remains were laid to rest on Thursday on the Isabella Indian Reservation located in Isabella County, Mich. A sacred reburial ceremony took place at noon Friday at the Nibokaan Ancestral Cemetery.

Remains were also repatriated from the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Anthropology at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

Archeologists found the remains in eight burial pits during the summer of 1973 in Lapeer County, which is east of Flint, along with 219 funerary objects. The remains, located at a site known as the Fisher Site, date back to the Late Archaic Period between 2250 B.C. and 850 B.C.

After staying for a brief period in a private home, the remains were donated to the University in 1995. They were identified as Native Americans after being inventoried between 2007 and 2009.

Due to the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, human remains and cultural artifacts from museums are required to be returned to descendants and Indian tribes that have requested them and have a legal right to them.

David Lampe, the University’s executive director of research communications, said he has spoken to 14 tribes that have legal claim to the remains.

“They will determine the final disposition of these remains,” Lampe said. “Our response was to work with them to do the proper transfer from our collections to them.”

Lampe said the NAGPRA Advisory Committee assists the University in following a set of policies and procedures to ensure that the law is adhered to.

“We have pulled together, and once the law paced, we immediately formed a group to set up a process,” Lampe said. “We’re doing exactly that.”

The group, which is affiliated with the Office of the Vice President of Research, guides the University in following these procedures and concentrates on a consultative process with tribal officials.

“It’s a process that requires a great deal of care and some careful negotiations because we want to make sure that everything is done right and that we’ve fulfilled both the letter and the spirit of the law,” Lampe said.

According to Lampe, the law has faced disapproval from some researchers.

“Some researchers object to the idea of returning these items because sometimes they want to retain them for research purposes,” he said. “We want to make sure these remains were restored to the people who have legal ownership of them.”

Lampe said the NAGPRA Advisory Committee strives to return and recover more remains in the future. The University will focus primarily on the state of Michigan because the state holds 80 percent of the human remains and 50 percent of the associated funerary objects that remain unidentified.

“This is a process that will take several years,” Lampe said. “We’re starting in Michigan because that’s where the largest concentration is.”