The University of North Dakota (UND) will begin to repatriate the partial remains and sacred artifacts of Native Americans that were found on campus, university officials announced this week.
The remains of approximately 70 Indigenous people and more than 200 boxes of artifacts were discovered in a campus building in April by a UND committee that was working on repatriation.
“In that moment, my heart sunk into my stomach,” Laine Lyons, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians who serves on the committee and director of development for UND’s College of Arts and Sciences, told The Bismarck Tribune. “It was at that moment that I knew we were another institution that didn’t do the right thing.”
University officials determined that the remains and objects were likely taken from sacred Native American burial mounds in the region over the course of four decades starting in the 1940s. Some of the ancestral remains were also likely used as teaching aids in certain courses, UND President Andrew Armacost wrote in a letter to the campus community.
Since the initial finding, the university has worked with numerous tribal leaders and representatives to ensure that the repatriation process is conducted correctly and respectfully. Additionally, UND is hiring Indigenous cultural resource consultants to help identify and return the artifacts. The university has launched a website that provides updates on the progress of the repatriation and contact information for those who can potentially offer details about the artifacts.
“First, I sincerely express my apologies and heartfelt regrets that UND has not already repatriated these ancestors and sacred objects as they should have been years ago,” Armacost wrote. “Second, I pledge my administration’s full support and commitment to the tribal nations impacted by this mistake. Our primary goal now is to work diligently until all ancestors and sacred objects are returned home, regardless of how long it takes.”