The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan to Repatriate Ancestral Human Remains from the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropological Archaeology

Saginaw Chippewa Tribal citizens carry remains at previous ceremony on Isabella Indian Reservation in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Photo by Levi Rickert

Published November 3, 2017

ISABELLA INDIAN RESERVATION – The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and its Ziibiwing Cultural Society (Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways) will lead a repatriation for the ancestralhuman remains of 20 Native American individuals and 106 associated funerary objects from the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropological Archaeology (UMMAA) in Ann Arbor, Michigan on November 30, 2017.

The Ziibiwing Cultural Society has been working diligently on behalf of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, and in cooperation with the Michigan Anishinaabek Cultural Preservation & Repatriation Alliance (MACPRA), to bring home ancestors and their associated funerary objects from the numerous museums, universities, and institutions across the country since the passage of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

NAGPRA requires museums and federal agencies to inventory and identify Native American human remains and cultural items in their collections and to consult with Federally-recognized Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations regarding the return of these objects to descendants or tribes and organizations. The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, in cooperation with the Michigan Anishinaabek Cultural Preservation & Repatriation Alliance, Chippewa-Cree of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation of Montana and the Mille Lacs Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, will carry out the repatriation through a National Park Service NAGPRA Repatriation Grant. Elders and representatives from the tribes will retrieve the ancestors and associated funerary objects at the University of Michigan on Thursday, November 30, 2017 and bring them to the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan to begin preparations for the reburial on Friday, December 1, 2017.

“Respecting Native American history and culture is an important part of the National Park Service mission,” said Acting National Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds. “These grants support the dedicated efforts of museum and tribal professionals to collaborate, consult, and respectfully return a significant part of our nation’s cultural heritage to Native American communities.”  Section 10 of NAGPRA authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to award grants to assist in implementing provisions of the Act. The National NAGPRA Program is administered by the National Park Service.

In 1970, human remains representing, at minimum, 20 individuals were removed from the Bugai site (20SA215) in Saginaw County, Michigan. Contract workers encountered human remains while excavating sand from private property near Interstate-75 in Bridgeport Township. After workers completed removing the sand, amateur archaeologists Leo Purple and Arthur Graves conducted a salvage excavation at the site from late-winter through the fall of 1970. Purple had surface-collected the site for several years prior to the excavation. Primary and secondary burials were noted at the site. The majority of the burials excavated were bundle burials, along with multiple objects. Purple and Graves divided the site collections, donating some to the UMMAA in 1976, and some to the Chippewa Nature Center (CNC) in Midland, Michigan in 1974. In 2006, the CNC donated the ancestral human remains and associated funerary objects from the Bugai site to the UMMAA.

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