UND works towards repatriation after human remains were found on their campus

Over 250 boxes of Native artifacts and human remains were found at UND

Native American artifacts and human remains were discovered at the University of North Dakota. Leadership at UND along with several tribal nation leaders are working to return the artifacts to their rightful place of origin. UND President Andy Armacost apologizes for the discovery of artifacts. 

It was discovered that over 70 human remains were found in various locations across UND, as well as more than 250 boxes of sacred artifacts. The first discovery was on March 3, 2022. The school is working on repatriation, along with an investigation into why the artifacts and remains were at UND.

Laine Lyones is the director of development for the College of Arts and Sciences for the UND Alumni Association and Foundation and is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. She was present when the first box was discovered at UND on March 3. 

During the news conference held by UND, she got emotional as she remembered finding the first ancestor. “My heart sunk into my stomach, it was at that moment that I knew we were another institution that didn’t do the right thing,” said Lyones. 

The President of UND Andy Armacost has apologized for the university’s discovery of the ancestral remains and artifacts. “Our intent of sharing this news today, is to apologize to tribal nations across North America, to avoid speculation about what’s been happening on campus and to offer our public commitment to those tribal nations and to the entire nation, that we’re going to return the ancestors and the artifacts to their homes,” said Armacost. 

The university is also taking steps in the process of repatriation to deliver the ancestors and artifacts to their place of origin. Nathan Davis, Executive Director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, explained the hurt that this situation has caused. 

“There’s nothing that I’ve ever been taught as a Native American man to put my relatives back in the ground. That violates who we are, that violates our culture,” said Davis, “so when we say this hurts, it’s because it touches our soul it touches our spirit, because in our ways this is not supposed to happen, our loved ones are supposed to rest.”

The remains and funerary items are believed to have been taken directly from sacred burial mounds during excavations between 1940 and 1980. “You suddenly begin to realize knowing where your own family and tribes came from that it’s highly likely that those are your ancestors,” said Davis. 

The artifacts were originally used for scientific purposes. “Scholars studied objects to learn more about the people from which they came,” said David Dodds, Director of Communications at UND. 

Armacost says that the university immediately reached out to local tribes as they are collaborating with them for the next steps. “We hope that this model of tribal partnership and involvement at that very beginning of repatriation can serve as a model for other universities and museums across North America,” said Armacost. 

Other universities have also discovered sacred artifacts and remains. On September 8, it was reported that the University of Alabama found 10,000 Native American human remains in its museum during an inventory. According to AL, “They are all believed to belong to the Muskogean language-speaking tribes, who were prominent in those areas of Alabama before being forced out during the Trail of Tears.”

North Dakota State University President David Cook sent a letter to the students, staff and faculty at NDSU stating their support to the repatriation efforts of UND. He also explained that NDSU is committed to returning artifacts that may be found. “Our initial inquiries have not discovered any ancestral and sacred artifacts on our campus. NDSU is committed to ensuring that any items found to be in our possession are identified and properly returned,” said Cook.

UND is continuing their support to return the items, however it may be a long process. “At the start of the process we felt anger, hurt, sandness, however we can now feel a sense of relief because our ancestors will be retired to their rightful place,” said Lyones.

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