Grave robbing universities should return our ancestors

Dear Editors,

Did you know that many colleges and universities continue to not only have ancestral human remains and burial goods in their collections but also refuse to return them to Native American Nations despite the NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) having been in place since 1990?

Why are these colleges and universities unwilling to allow for reburial of remains wrongfully removed from their original places of burial? Why is it that some academic institutions carefully and diligently follow the intent of NAGPRA, to return ancestors to descendant nations and homelands, while others find ways to circumvent the spirit, and sometimes the letter, of the law?

First Nations people apparently have to prove to these institutions that ancestral remains and related burial items are historically and directly connected to the Native/indigenous nation(s) requesting their return; rather than the institution having to prove that the remains are not directly related/affiliated to the indigenous people wanting to provide proper burials for their ancestors.

Here’s another really interesting question – why is it that the colleges and universities keeping ancestral remains and burial items in their collections, are the authority who get to not only challenge the Native/indigenous people whose ancestral remains are basically being held prisoner; but are also the authority charged with making final decisions about the remains they hold? Seriously, if there is some needed requirement of proof from the indigenous nation requesting that their ancestral remains and burial items be returned to them, should there not be an independent review board making these decisions, and not the institution that “somehow” acquired these ancestral remains?

Native American/First Nations people aren’t requesting these ancestral remains and affiliated burial goods for research, to make a profit or exploit them; they only want to make sure that their ancestors are properly returned to burial.

There are several online databases that list institutions holding human remains and the locations they came from. Two databases to start with are the “Culturally Unidentifiable” and the “Culturally Affiliated” databases at:

Personally I cannot think of any reason as to why a college or university should not return all human remains and related burials goods. This subject deeply concerns me, as colleges and universities are where we send our children to not only be trained/educated to be successful in whatever career they choose, but to be good, compassionate and conscientious parents, friends and community members; to stand up for human rights, for justice and to build a better tomorrow. All the “great minds” working and teaching at these institutions, as well as alumni, have an ethical and moral responsibility to tell these institutions to return all ancestral remains and burials items now, not tomorrow, not next year, not while they create any more roadblocks or find loopholes to deny indigenous people the right to properly bury their ancestors.

Rick Pouliot
Milford, New Hampshire

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