Last winter, Crystal Alberts, an English professor at the University of North Dakota, set out to find the missing pipes, headdresses, and moccasins that were once on display in the school library, and headed deep into the nearly 140-year-old campus. I was.
This collection was removed from the library in 1988. This was after students questioned whether the university should exhibit objects of religious significance to Native Americans. Colleague Alberts and her assistant searched the back rooms and storage closets and opened an unmarked cardboard box.
In one of them Alberts found a pipe. Her assistant reached for it, she said.
“Don’t touch it,” said Alberts.
She called Rain Lyons, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians who works for the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, and asked for help.
Lyons met with Alberts, watched him and her colleagues open box after box, and offered advice on how to treat items with respect. Lyons, who feels naive in retrospect now, said he never expected what they found: more than 70 human corpse samples, many of which were unidentifiable. It was in a box.
“The best way we can describe how we discovered things is in the most inhuman way possible,” Lyons said. did.”
She said it sank.
“At that moment, we were just another agency that didn’t do the right thing,” she said.
As soon as the bodies were discovered, the administrators contacted initially half a dozen, now thirteen, tribes to begin the process of returning the bodies and more than 100 religious items.
“What we did as a university was terrible and we continue to apologize,” Armacost said at a press conference Wednesday, confirming that all items and ancestry would be returned to the appropriate tribal nations. I swore I would.
However, the process is likely difficult, could take years, and in some cases could be impossible due to lack of information.
“I’m worried that it will not be identifiable or put back in place,” she said.
Since the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in 1990, federal law requires agencies that receive federal funding to catalog their collections with the National Park Service and ensure that they It obliges us to endeavor to return them to the nations of the abducted tribes. However, the University of North Dakota is not on the federal inventory, despite university administrators admitting that it has owned Native American artifacts since its founding in 1883.
Findings at UND point to broader and systemic problems that have plagued indigenous communities for centuries. More than 100,000 people are still in institutions across the country, despite decades-old laws. Actions and apologies by North Dakota administrators have increased tribal-state pressure on public universities, museums, and even libraries to comply with laws and inventories, and to return Native American ancestry and cultural property they own. Therefore, it shows a national calculation.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum said: statement“This dark chapter is deeply hurtful, but by conducting this process with the utmost respect for the hopes, customs and traditions of the Indigenous peoples, we will increase our understanding and respect for Indigenous cultures and strengthen our national identity.” It gives you the opportunity to become a model.”
Armacost and his colleagues say they will not release their findings until consensus is reached on how to dispose of the remains and until Indigenous faculty, staff and students are respectful and aware of the situation. It said it had decided to honor the authorities’ request. How.
Tribal officials and indigenous archivists should commend Armacost for his willingness to consult the tribe and publicly apologize for the university’s failures immediately after the discovery, and commend how UND leaders have responded. But they also asked for accountability.
“When our ancestors are disturbed and left behind, it is always very traumatic and hurtful,” Mark Fox, chairman of Mandan, Hidatsa and Ali Carnation, said in a statement to NBC News. “We will continue to monitor this matter closely to ensure that the ancestral remains are repatriated as quickly and respectfully as possible under the circumstances.”
Many universities and museums have NAGPRA officials on staff to inventory Indigenous artifacts and cultural properties, associate them with their tribes of origin, and ultimately return them. However, UND does not have its own NAGPRA office. The university has appointed a committee to review the findings, and Armacost told his NBC News it is considering hiring staff to facilitate NAGPRA cases.
Diane DeRogers, historical preservation officer for Sisseton Warpeton Oyate, a tribal state in North Dakota, said she wanted to know who was responsible for the inadvertent trapping of human remains in the university vault. “I want an answer to that question,” she said.
Armacost said finding out who was responsible will be part of the university’s investigation.
Mr Lyons said he hopes the UND findings will serve as a wake-up call to other agencies holding back on NAGPRA compliance.
“Look at what you have, look at your past,” she said. You have to say it instead of waiting for the to do it.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com