UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

UND to begin repatriating Indigenous artifacts this year

‘Our most critical goal is to make sure ancestors and their artifacts make it home as quickly as possible,’ UND President Andy Armacost says

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Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

After nearly two years of difficult but deliberate work, the University will begin repatriating Indigenous ancestors and sacred artifacts this year.

Those ancestors and artifacts will be returned to the tribes from which they originated, as UND continues its efforts to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. As many members of the campus community now are aware, ancestors and sacred items were discovered on campus on March 3, 2022.

Since that time, and following the formation of UND’s NAGPRA Compliance Committee, work has been ongoing to gather, then culturally affiliate and prepare items of Indigenous origin for return to their ancestral homes. This work has been carried out while keeping the involved Tribal Nations apprised of everything while paying particular attention to the concerns of Indigenous people.

“Our most critical goal is to make sure ancestors and their artifacts make it home as quickly as possible,” said UND President Andy Armacost. “I am grateful, first and foremost, to our tribal partners, whose representatives have guided us each step of the way. I’m thankful for federal and state agency partners whose advice is central to helping us comply with federal and state laws. Our incredible team here at UND, which includes members under contract to the University, has been exceptional in working through complicated issues, always keeping the important goal in mind.

“The needs of our campus Indigenous community will remain a top priority during this work and long after it has been completed.”

In October 2022, UND contracted the services of Dirt Divers, a business owned by James Jones, a citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, to assist with the repatriation process. In May 2023, UND hired Mary Baker, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes/Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, as its compliance liaison to assist with the University’s repatriation efforts.

Now, the University is preparing to take the next step toward returning ancestors and items to their tribal lands. As has been reported recently in the Grand Forks Herald, the University has notified 49 tribes of the possibility of being affiliated with objects in UND’s possession. As the process of affiliating objects found on campus continues, the number of tribes UND will continue to contact may change.

Though repatriation efforts on campus are far from complete, it is important to note that UND will maintain and strengthen its commitment to its Indigenous members of the campus community, and the broader Indigenous community in the state, beyond physically returning items to identified tribes. One example of that commitment has been the hiring of Keith Malaterre as director of the UND Indigenous Student Center, a position that had not been filled since 2017.

Also, with developments to repatriation efforts at UND come developments to the University’s repatriation website. Changes to the website range from updating names on the NAGPRA Compliance Committee, to including a timeline of repatriation activity.

The website also is being reorganized to more prominently display new information, while making more visible the mental health support programs available to faculty, students and staff related to repatriation at UND.

Another purpose for updating the website is to direct people to the appropriate federal resources that provide a glossary of terms to help with understanding the repatriation process. For example, confusion might exist surrounding terms such as “summaries” and “inventories.”

UND has sent summaries to 49 tribes. These are notices that let tribes know that UND has cultural objects that might have been taken from their tribe, and they may wish to make a claim to have those items repatriated.

A NAGPRA inventory, on the other hand, is required to be published in the Federal Register. These inventories are notices that relate to ancestors (human remains) and their belongings.

The changes to the website are expected to come online in the upcoming days.

UND remains committed to providing regular updates about the repatriation process. These updates will continue to be posted to the repatriation website.