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Native American ancestral remains to be reburied at Michigan tribal cemetery

U.S. Department of Agriculture

The human remains of 126 Native Americans are going home this week.

Over the course of the week, representatives of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe are retrieving the remains and associated funerary objects from the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and a Mount Pleasant State Police Post.

Shannon Martin is a member of the delegation and director of the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. 

She said, "Our grandmothers and grandfathers who were excavated or who were looted generations and generations ago, we're finally able to bring them home from the various institutions back for a reburial."

Martin said there will be a "Recommited to the Earth" ceremony this Friday at the Tribe's ancestral cemetery in Chippewa Township.

She said, "It's a healing ceremony. It's an appeasement ceremony to be able to rebury our ancestors in a reverential way, say the prayers and sing the songs that will reconcile the wrong that was done to them when they were taken from the earth."

Martin said that the commitment of remains to the earth is an important part of the Tribe's traditions. "When we place our bodies into the earth, we're paying respect to our mother and everything she did for us during our lifetime.  So for every drop of water we drank or every animal or plant that we ate or used for medicines, our body is that final gift and when that's disturbed, it's a direct violation of our spiritual protocol."

A 1990 federal law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, requires museums and federal agencies to document Native American human remains and cultural artifacts in their collections and consult with federally recognized Native American tribes regarding their return to descendants or tribes.

Martin says the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe will receive an $8,717 grant from the National Park Service to cover the costs of this week's repatriation.

Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom