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University of North Dakota professor accidentally discovers hundreds of Indigenous remains on campus

“The best way I can describe how we found things is in the most inhumane way possible,” Laine Lyons, who works for the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, told NBC News. “Just completely ignored that these were once people.”

The three then realized that the university had failed to treat the Native American remains with dignity and repatriate them to tribes, as required by federal law. According to NBC News, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act passed in 1990 requires Native American remains and artifacts to be repatriated to their rightful tribe.

“It’s always extremely traumatic and painful when the remains of our ancestors are disturbed and misplaced,” Mark Fox, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, told NBC News. “We will be following this case closely to ensure that the remains of our ancestors are repatriated as quickly and as respectfully as possible under the circumstances.”

Prior to the law, proponents noted that artifacts and remains of indigenous individuals were often sold in museums or auction houses at home and abroad. The law was the first civil and human rights law in which Congress ruled on the treatment of Native American bodies and sacred objects.

“(The law was, of course, necessary to rectify centuries of history in which colonizers freely dug up our ancestors and stole our cultural items,” Shannon O’Loughlin, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and attorney for the Association on American Indian Affairs, told USA TODAY.

In addition to the remains, a missing pipe, headdress and moccasins that were once on display in the school’s library were found.

According to the university, the native artifacts were first brought to the university by the school’s first faculty member, Henry Montgomery, the author of Remains of Prehistoric Man in the Dakotaswho acquired remains and artifacts through excavations.

“The remains of additional ancestors were brought to UND through subsequent anthropological and archaeological excavations in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. One item was donated to the university in 2007,” said the the university repatriation website read.

According to an press releaseafter the discovery, the university is now working to send the remains to their proper location.

“Following other recent revelations of historical injustices done to indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada, members of our tribal communities in the region will no doubt be deeply affected by this news from UND,” said university president Andrew Armacost. in the statement.

Lyons told NBC News that while the school is now making efforts to return the remains, the process could take years and may be impossible due to a lack of information.

“I’m afraid we might not be able to identify people or put them back where they should be,” she said.

Unfortunately, UND is not the first American school to discover the human remains of Native Americans on campus. Harvard recognized in June that it illegally held the remains of about 7,000 Native people, but that’s not all: The University of Tennessee also started the reunification process of more than 2,000 remains in 2020.

“We are heartbroken by the profoundly insensitive treatment of these native ancestral remains and artifacts and offer our deepest apologies to the sovereign tribal nations in North Dakota and beyond,” North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum said in a statement. pronunciation.

He continued: “This dark chapter, while extremely painful, also presents an opportunity to increase our understanding and respect for indigenous cultures and to become a model for the nation by carrying out this process with the utmost reverence for the wishes , customs and traditions of tribes. to land.”

According to CNNwhile UND staff discovered about 250 boxes of remains in March, the discovery was only made public this week at the request of indigenous representatives.

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