Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Challenges. Discussion »
ISABELLA INDIAN RESERVATION Representatives of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan journeyed to the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor earlier this week to bring the remains of 124 of their ancestors back to be properly buried on the Isabella Indian Reservation.
Once at the University of Michigan, the representatives were given 35 boxes from the university.
They were not quite prepared for what they discovered inside the 35 boxes. Inside the larger boxes were some 9,000 white smaller boxes with 103,801 human bone fragments spread throughout the boxes. The white boxes were marked with various bone parts, such as fibula and so on. Others contained remains that had been cremated.
The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Men's Society and several
Tribal Women Carry Ancestral Remains to their Final Resting Place on the Isabella Reservation
These human remains were unearthed at an ancestral burial site in 1973 when a contractor was putting an addition on a private residence near Pleasant Lake in Lapeer County, Michigan. The unearthing of the 124 remains that ensued then became known as the Fisher Site excavation.
“These remains were deemed to be 4,000 years old,”
said Sonja Atalay, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst.
“They were buried during a time in what is known as the Late Archaic period.”
The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Men's Society Members
Dr. Atalay was present on Friday to lend her expertise in the handling of human remains as they were prepared for a proper burial.
“These ancestors were disrespected in the most profound way,”
said Willie Johnson, Ojibwe, curator of the Tribe's Ziibiwing Center of the Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways, to a crowd of who gathered to assist the Tribe in the recommitment of their ancestors.
Dennis Banks American Indian Movement Co-founder
Dennis Banks, Ojibwe, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, who was on the reservation to assist in the recommitment ceremony and other tribal business, was much more candid about the fact 124 remains were broken into 103,801 bone fragments.
“This is adding insult to injury. What did they do, take hammers to our ancestors?”
“I am angry about this. The university people are culture vultures.”
“I think our Indian students need to question each and every university to see if they have any our ancestors' bones. I would tell those universities that think they need our bones for scientific reasons to start digging up white peoples' bones.”
The University of Michigan still has some 1,300 American Indian ancestral remains in its possession, according to Dr. Atalay.
Tribal Women Carry Ancestral Remains
Tribal representatives and others worked feverishly until 3 am Friday to properly process the ancestral remains. The hard work continued into Friday, delaying the planned noon "Re-commitment to the Earth" ceremony by several hours.
Once properly processed, the ancestral remains made their last journey from the Ziibiwing Center. Members of the newly founded Men's Society, a group of tribal men from the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe wearing black shirts, and several women tribal citizens carried and walked the ancestral remains to their final resting place.
The 124 were joined by one more ancestor that has been held at the Robert S Peabody Museum of Archaeology, Phillips Academy since 1901. It was originally unearthed from an unknown location near Bellevue, Michigan and donated to the Robert S Peabody Museum in Andover, Massachusetts.
The long journey for 125 ancestors ended near dusk as their remains were buried in the Nibokaan Ancestral Cemetery on the reservation.
updated 3:10 pm edt; posted October 13, 2012 8:30 am edt