Congress Told Colleges to Return Native Remains. What’s Taking So Long?

the Grand Forks, North Dakota, campus of the University of North Dakota, where Native American bones have been discovered. Credit… The New York Times’ Jaida Grey Eagle

Colleges were ordered to return native remains by Congress. Why Does It Take So Long?

N.D.’s GRAND FORKS — Last month, the tribe officials came to the University of North Dakota for a solemn, top-secret job.

They searched through storage spaces for three days, praying and moving boxes. To prevent smoke alarms from being set off by the burning of sage or sweet grass during the move, hallways had to be closed, work had to be stopped, and smoke detectors had to be turned off.It marked the start of a protracted procedure to return Native American artefacts and bodies to tribes from the institution.

Congress approved a statute mandating schools and museums to return Native American artefacts and remains in their hands more than 30 years ago. However, a generation later, the returns—when they have materialized—have been sluggish and halting. Numerous organisations have slowed down the process by arguing over the connections between tribes and the artefacts and, in certain circumstances, whether they should be given back. Others, such as the University of North Dakota, appear to have made only sporadic attempts to locate and return objects up until recently, raising concerns about how so many years could have gone by without improvement.

When the first package of human remains was discovered on campus in March, English professor Crystal Alberts was there. “There has to have been someone who opened box, seen something, looked, and then they went away,” she said.

On the campus of North Dakota

The process is particularly difficult and personal due to the school’s demographics and history. 
The institution boasts sizable Native American student body, an American Indian centre on campus, and robust academic programmes for Native students interested in pursuing careers in nursing, psychology, and medicine. 
The Fighting Sioux, the college’s old mascot, has been the subject of an ongoing controversy for years despite the fact that many people find it insulting.
According to Hillary Kempenich, graduate of the university and member of the Turtle Mountain Anishinaabe, “U.N.D. set the standard for desecrating and disrespecting, dishonouring Indigenous people.” She added that racism toward Native Americans was defining aspect of her campus experience about 20 years ago. 
“While they might be returning the remains, they still owe us big favour by aiding our recovery and onward motion.”North Dakota is one of several institutions coping with similar concerns. 
Many academic institutions in this nation saw the collection of Native artefacts and skeletal remains as respectable endeavour throughout most of the 20th century, with archaeologists excavating burial sites to recover artefacts for research and exhibition. 
University of California, Berkeley, Harvard, andThe treatment of returned bones and artefacts by several universities, including the University of Alabama, has drawn criticism in recent years. The National Park Service estimates that more than 765,000 artefacts and the remains of more than 108,000 Indigenous people are housed at government institutions including museums and colleges.

Campus authorities in North Dakota disclosed their discovery of the bodies and artefacts late last month. They pledged to follow the wishes of tribe chiefs as they returned the loot that had been taken in the past. But the challenging procedure of identifying which human remains belong to which tribes is still in its early stages.

The university president, Andrew Armacost, who has recently apologised to Native Americans several times, stated, “The clock is ticking and we have to get going swiftly.” 

And we have to consider the trade-offs, he continued. 

Do we hold off until all of the ancestors and things are thoroughly recognised and assigned to certain locations? 
Do we proceed in stages instead?
The statement infuriated Native Americans on Grand Forks’ immaculately maintained campus. 
Devon Headdress, senior from the Hidatsa tribe who aspires to be doctor, said that when he first received the news, he experienced intense indignation and found it difficult to concentrate in class. 
It was “soul wound,” according to psychology doctoral candidate Nerissa Dolney.
Ms. Dolney, member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, whose reservation is between South Dakota and North Dakota, said, “You feel it so strongly, and it’s not really sense you can convey to other people.”

Native students 

Native students and faculty members discussed how they were able to put their anger over the university’s prior misconduct aside in the face of what most of them saw as good-faith attempt, at least thus far, to return the remains. 
The head of the university’s Indian Association, Mr. Headdress, said his initial annoyance that Dr. Armacost held off on making the discovery public for six months eased after learning that he had done so at the request of tribal elders. 
Graduate student Elleh Driscoll said she trusted the institution to uphold its commitments.
This is moving in going be something that we carry about probably for the remainder of the time we are at U.N.D., said Ms. Driscoll, a member of the Iowa-based Meskwaki tribe. It’s something that we’ll have to deal with.