Repatriation without NAGPRA

Sometimes repatriation occurs without NAGPRA. What happens when remains are found on lands that are not subject to NAGPRA, that are not on tribal or federal lands? The situation becomes much more complicated and it depends on state law, along with what the land owner wants to do. We had such a case last week here in northern Michigan, where remains were found and the tribe was immediately notified. The town didn’t have to notify the tribe, but since this town is right smack dab in the middle of our rez, they did.

But the story doesn’t end there. These remains were found in front of where the old boarding school was in town. The church tore down the school in 2007, but the legacy of this boarding school carries on, not only with the people who went there, but with the children who passed away there. And that’s who we were recovering from the road construction that was occurring. My department and myself shot down there immediately, recovered who we could and laid them back to rest. When these situations arise, you drop everything and take care of business.


Had to take a break from blogging for awhile, had some negativity around me. I didn’t want to write something I would regret later on. There is a huge emotional component to this work, both in the Indian community and the museum world. unfortunately, I was feeling negative feedback from other Indians and that was the most disheartening. No matter how many reparations you work on, how many ancestors you help bring back, there will always be those few who pick and poke at what you do, making enough noise to create problems. That is what has happened here and it has stopped progress.

So what do you do when this happens? Hammer forward, because a lot more is riding on getting the work done than collecting a paycheck or building a name for one’s self. It is about taking care of your ancestors, with respect and honor for them. It’s about keeping the old ways alive by bring home the sacred items. It is about being Anishnaabe for me. A pretty straightforward mission but at times, creates complicated scenarios due to differences in personalities and opinions. I am sure many other professions deal with the same issues, and like many other jobs, repatriation has a much bigger picture that needs to be realized.

Back to Mackinac

Last week we had one of the most beautiful reburial ceremonies I have ever been a part of. LTBB Odawa, along with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the state of Michigan and the village of Mackinac Island, all worked together for a reburial on Mackinac Island. The island is owned by the state but has a long history of Anishnaabek occupation and ceremonial use. When the tribes approached Mackinac Island about the possibility of utilizing some lands to rebury remains from near by areas at the Straits of Mackinac, we were not sure how long it would take to materialize, if it was to happen at all. All parties worked together to make this happen much sooner than I anticipated and we were able to rebury remains last week.

This was a reminder of the importance of doing the work and the good that comes out of it. We had worked on previous repatriatons with the state of Michigan, so when it came time to approach this department within the state, it was very comfortable and this department knew the importance of what we were requesting. This goes to show, repatriations are positive on many levels and can be the foundation for positive work.

Forging On

After a week of driving around southern Michigan, the office never looked so good. Completed two repatriations and retrieved some artifacts on loan to a national park. But life is not letting up just yet. My department has TWO exhibits opening here in Emmet County, both on August 12th! Than life will settle down a bit. Some repatriations we have in the works are stalled for a multitude of reasons, both tribal and museum. These last 6 months are the most frustrating times I have had doing NAGPRA. Note to anybody working with groups; keep communication open at all times and don’t let personal feelings get in the way of the big picture, returning ancestors.

But it’s not good to dwell on the negative. We had some ancestors returned to the earth recently and that always grounds me in my purpose. More local historical groups and museums are wanting to work with my department on a multitude of projects. It is so refreshing people are actually asking the tribe “what is your history”, instead of dictating it themselves. So not much blogging, with so much work going on.

Dogs Days of Summer

Summer is probably the worst time to get repatriation claims through. Most of the people I deal with are at universities and they are not in the office much during summer months. So, the plan is to do most of the claims during the winter, and if all goes well, travel in the summer to pick up the remains and/or items. unfortunately, there is not much traveling lately to get remains or items. Museums are still undecided on how to handle our claims, whether to honor them or simply reply to us about them. Frustrating.

But there is no shortage of work. In two weeks, we have two exhibits opening up here. One of them is at a local museum. The theme is the Odawa during the 20th century in northern Michigan. Part of the exhibit will talk about a grave item that was dug up, sold and eventually, some 60yrs later, returned to us under NAGPRA. The grave item has since been reburied, but the story of the item will live on.

More Grave Protection

Not much blogging lately, things have been ultra busy. And I thought this summer was going to be laid back! Nope. One project that just came up is the issue of a cemetery here in Emmet County. The cemetery is very historic, the site and burials pre date European arrival. A large Church is there now, along with a historic cemetery, with all Odawa buried there. The “caretaker” a summer resident, has decided to cut down a bunch of trees in the cemetery, dig a trench for cable and put in a drain field, without notifying the tribe. When I asked why he didn’t contact us (the church owns the property, but the tribe does all the grounds keeping, this caretaker only does up keep on the church itself). He replied “I didn’t think the tribe needed to know”.

All of this disturbing work and it was decided by one person we were on a need to know basis. Needless to say I was angry, frustrated and yet, not surprised. We try to protect graves from disturbance of any sort. Now we have to go to the church and figure out what is going on.

Hurry up and wait

There hasn’t been much going on in the way of repatriation in the last few weeks. We have claims out, but as is the case many times, we are waiting for confirmation on these claims. Committees have to meet at museums, professors go on sabbatical and people take vacations. So we wait until they get back. There is a 90 day stipulation in NAGPRA, and once a repatriation is to occur, it is suppose to happen in the timeliest manner possible. But that’s once a museum has agreed to return something, it’s getting to that decision that takes so much time.

But there is plenty to do in the mean time. Community outreach has really taken off under my new department. Local groups, mainly non Indian, bring us in to to presentations and lectures more and more. This has alot to do with our successful repatriation program. I want to add more success to our program by having more ancestors come back, but just takes so much time! Coordinating between museums and tribes is a full time job. Sometimes tribes don’t see eye to eye on things, as well as tribes and museums. It can be a constant balancing act.