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SCIT repatriates ancestral remains and funerary objects from University of Michigan
12/16/2014 9:00:00 AM - Tribal Observer

SCIT repatriates ancestral remains and funerary objects from University of Michigan

By Joseph V. Sowmick, Photojournalist


Below freezing temperatures and a biting northern wind was no match for the warmth of community to be present when ancestors come home.  Tribal Elder Bert Hunt saw the beauty of the snow and cold weather as a good sign.

“Doing something that warms your heart doesn’t mean it will be easy because sometimes we have to suffer before we see the good we can do together,” Hunt said.  “It is a beautiful day… it always is when we bring our ancestors home. There are many frozen tears of joy out here today.”

On Nov. 19, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and its Ziibiwing Cultural Society repatriated the ancestral human remains of 94 Native American individuals and 812 associated funerary objects from the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropological Archaeology in Ann Arbor, Mich. 

Ziibiwing staff and community volunteers worked diligently during a three day preparation with the Michigan Anishnaabek Cultural Preservation & Repatriation Alliance (MACPRA), the Chippewa-Cree Indians of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation of Montana, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma 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).

Tribal Elders Alvin Windy Boy and Duncan Standing Rock Sr. were the visiting Montana dignitaries in attendance with Windy Boy making his second Ziibiwing repatriation.

“I took part in repatriation with the Turtle Mountain Tribe about four years ago and I’ve always felt at home on your ceremonial grounds… your weather reminds me of back home,” Windy Boy said. “I think it is times like this where we truly feel a part of the circle and we know we are all connected, whatever Tribe we are from.”

Elder Standing Rock Sr. shared a teaching on how his ancestors went through the snow of the Canadian Rockies of Alberta and ended up at the Rocky Boy Reserve in Montana.

“Migration stories are common with our people and we knew if we could get over that big mountain, we would be survivors,” he Standing Rock Sr. said.  “From the province in Alberta, Canada to the migration through Minot, North Dakota, our people followed the sacred fires that led this Ojibwe into big mountain country and we are blessed by the Great Spirit for making that journey.”

Ziibiwing Executive Director Shannon Martin informs “The University of Michigan posted a Notice of Inventory Completion in the Federal Register on Oct. 16, 2014. From 1923 to 1935, human remains representing, at minimum, 94 individuals were removed from the Younge site (20LP1) in Lapeer County, Mich. The site is located on farmland north of Imlay City and had been plowed over for years. Between 1923 and 1935, amateur archaeologist Carman Baggerly collected at the site with the landowner’s permission.”

“Baggerly donated many of the human remains and objects to the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology (UMMAA) throughout that period,” Martin said. “These donations prompted a UMMAA excavation of the site that occurred from July 19 to Nov. 5, 1935, under the direction of Wilbert Hinsdale and Emerson Greenman. The human remains date to the Late Woodland Period (900–1300 A.D.) based on objects found at the site. No known individuals were identified.”


Midewewin Tribal Elders George Martin and Brain Corbiere led the community in the “Recommitment to the Earth Ceremony” at the Tribe’s Nibokaan Ancestral Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1995 for the explicit purpose of reburying repatriated Native American ancestral human remains and associated funerary objects.   

Okima II David Perez was on site with the Anishinabe Ogitchedaw Veterans & Warrior Society (AOVWS) Healing Eagle Staff and SCIT Behavioral Health Helping Healer Beatrice Jackson had her personal Eagle Clan Healing Staff and offered cedar and tobacco to participants. 

Sault Ste. Marie Tribal Elder Greg Lambert respectfully offered a medicine smudge to every aspect of the proceedings.

AOVWS Veteran Tony Perry placed each item carefully in a good way for reburial.

“I am honored to be a part of this and bring our ancestors back where they belong,” Perry said. “It is a humbling, sobering experience to know there are people out there that disrespect and desecrate our people and our Nation by digging them up and taking DNA samplings, artifacts and bones for their own personal gain or curiosity. I think this is something that continues to go on and it needs to be exposed and on the forefront of modern media to make people aware of what is going on against our people, our culture and our Elders.”

Perry mentioned the duties that he was asked to do is one of the highest honors an Ogitchedaw is privileged to perform for their community.

“As Ogitchedaw, our job is to serve and protect no matter what or where… to serve the community and the ancestors is a high honor,” he said. “Handling each bundle makes one reflect and one particular bundle I started getting choked up and my Elder asked me if I needed a break and I told him I’ll be OK.  It is emotional, not just a physical thing we go through with repatriation, and it’s a deeply spiritual and emotional thing that comes from the heart.  Ogichedaw means the big hearted, and I find certain relevance and deeper meaning of that today.”


A “Journey Feast” to conclude the ancestral ceremonies and protocols was held after the “Recommitment to the Earth” ceremony at 2 p.m. at the Ziibiwing Center.

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