The remains of more than 120 ancestors were laid to rest October 12 at the Nibokaan Ancestral Cemetery on the Isabella Indian Reservation in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan repatriated all but one set of remains from the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropology in Ann Arbor, Michigan. One set of remains was also repatriated from the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.
The remains that had been in the possession of the university were donated in 1995 but were discovered in 1973 at what was called the Fisher Site near Pleasant Lake in Lapeer, Michigan. The Michigan Daily reported that the remains and funerary items found at the Fisher Site were kept at a private home before being donated to the University of Michigan.
The funds to make the Recommitment to the Earth Ceremony possible were part of a $1.6 million federal grant from the National Park Service announced in August. The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan received $13,593 of that grant.
According to a press release from the tribe, the Nibokaan Ancestral Cemetery was created in 1995 explicitly for reburying repatriated ancestral remains and funerary objects.
It was a good move, because the University of Michigan is working on returning many more sets of remains to the state’s tribes.
In January the university completed a formal set of regulations and in 2009 created an advisory committee for repatriating roughly 1,600 sets of culturally unidentifiable remains to tribes.
The Advisory Committee on Culturally Unidentifiable Human Remains and policies at the university was created in response to a 2010 update to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act that clarified the process of repatriating remains that are not easily traced to a current tribe.
“The new rule specifies that after appropriate consultation, culturally unidentifiable remains are to be transferred to a Native American tribe from whose tribal or aboriginal lands the remains were excavated or removed,” says a university press release from January 2010.
David Lampe, the university’s executive director of research communications, acknowledged the differing opinions between returning the remains to tribes and the scientists who would prefer to continue studying them.
“Some researchers object to the idea of returning these items because sometimes they want to retain them for research purposes,” he told The Michigan Daily. “We want to make sure these remains were restored to the people who have legal ownership of them.”