Dozens of indigenous artifacts and human remains have been discovered at the University of North Dakota.
The remains were illegally detained, violating a law that required the bodies and artifacts of the natives to be returned to their rightful owners.
An official said the remains were preserved in a way that “completely ignored that these were once people.”
When an English professor from the University of North Dakota went in search of indigenous artifacts, he ended up discovering their hidden remains in the “most inhumane way possible”.
The discovery of about 250 boxes took place in March, but this week it only publicized the find at the request of indigenous representatives, CNN reported.
“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. “I just completely ignored that these were once people.”
Lyons, a member of the Chippewa Indians’ Turtle Mountain Band, told NBC News that more than 70 human remains were found. Headdresses, war hats, and a ceremonial pipe were also discovered, according to the outlet.
According to UND, 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 Dakotas” – who acquired remains and artifacts through excavations.
“The remains of other ancestors were brought to the UND by subsequent anthropological and archaeological excavations in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. An object was donated to the University in 2007,” according to the university’s repatriation website. .
It is unclear whether the objects were among those recently discovered.
The university is now working to send personal belongings to their correct location with the help of several tribal representatives, a press release read.
“In the wake of other recent revelations about historical wrongs inflicted on indigenous people in the United States and Canada, members of our tribal communities in the region will no doubt be deeply affected by this UND news,” said University President Andrew Armacost. in the statement.
The discovery also violates federal law – the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act – which established the requirement for the repatriation of Native American remains and artifacts to their rightful tribe in 1990.
“It is always extremely traumatic and painful when the remains of our ancestors have been disturbed and out of place,” Mark Fox, president of Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, told NBC News. “We will monitor this closely to ensure that the remains of our ancestors are repatriated as quickly and as respectfully as possible given the circumstances.”
UND is not the first school to have discovered human remains of Native Americans on its campus. Harvard recently acknowledged that it is illegally detaining the remains of some 7,000 indigenous people, and the University of Tennessee began the process of reuniting more than 2,000 remains in 2020.
“We are heartbroken by the deeply insensitive treatment of these indigenous ancestral remains and artifacts and extend our deepest apologies to the sovereign tribal nations of North Dakota and beyond,” North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum said Wednesday.
He added: “This dark chapter, although extremely painful, also presents an opportunity to enhance our understanding and respect for indigenous cultures and to become a role model for the nation by conducting this process with the utmost deference to wishes, customs and traditions of tribal nations “.
The University of North Dakota declined to provide further comment.
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