Identity is at the center of repatriation. Who has the right to remains and items, who are these people long removed from their burials, who are their modern descendants, what are the items used for, who has the right to them? These are questions that are at the forefront of repatriation discussions. When things become too complicated to make progress, I try to simplify, go back. Identity is the first step. We are Anishnaabe people, in Michigan for countless generations before Europeans. All tribes have a creation/migration belief, this cements identity into the community and into what we do in my department. With a strong belief of being Anishnaabe, we go forward with a sense of purpose in our work. The identity of the remains we pursue, we believe to be very old Anishnaabe. Can we say they are Odawa, Potawatomi, etc.? NO. Do we believe the remains from the Michigan to be Anishnaabek? Yes. It’s very easy to get caught into the arguments proposed by museums as to why ancient remains should not be returned. Museums have much invested into remains; reputations, research, time, money. Some museum staff identify with the research they have performed on the remains, with their careers.They fight to keep them, as the tribes fight to have them returned.
Anishnaabe identity is not written down, it’s passed down. What is passed down is Anishnaabe take care of their dead. Returning remains and reburying them is a new facet to this belief, one that is rooted in Identity.