One afternoon earlier this year, Wendell Yellow Bull received a call from a longtime friend with word of a troubling discovery. Objects from one of the most notorious massacres of Native Americans in U.S. history were in the collections of the American Museum of Natural History, his friend said. Some of them appeared to be children’s toys, including a saddle and a doll shirt. Memories of what Yellow Bull had been told about the incident throughout his life came rushing back. Yellow Bull is a descendant of Joseph Horn Cloud, who survived the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee.
We had reached the top of a sandstone mesa when Theresa Pasqual set down her hiking pole and scanned the storied canyon before us. We could see the centuries-old buildings of Chaco Canyon, a site in northwest New Mexico that her tribe’s ancestors, the Ancestral Puebloans, had occupied before eventually establishing other communities in the region. Pueblo Bonito, the canyon’s largest structure, sprawled from near the base of the bluff where we stood, its walls arcing around hundreds of hollowed rooms. Two colleagues and I had traveled to the canyon with Pasqual as part of our reporting on how the nation’s most prestigious museums and universities had excavated Native American cultural sites like this and how they continued to keep what they took.
Illinois - For more than 30 years, tribal nations have been asking the state of Illinois and its state-run institutions to return the remains of their ancestors for reburial within the state. For just as long, Illinois has made that nearly impossible. But now, legislation moving through the Illinois General Assembly would finally pave the way for the remains of thousands of Native Americans to be repatriated. The legislation, which unanimously passed the Illinois House of Representatives this month, comes after nearly two years of consultations among the leaders of more than two dozen tribal nations, the Illinois State Museum and the state Department of Natural Resources.
The University of North Dakota has started the process of returning Native American ancestors and artifacts to their tribal homes. Repatriation is required under the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, enacted by Congress in 1990. UND president Andrew Armacost said the university is still investigating why the remains were not previously returned to tribes. He said they were likely collected by university faculty from the 1940s to the 1980s, and it is unclear how the university used the remains. “How and why ancestors and sacred items remain on our campus is a mystery that we will have to answer in the course of our work,” he said. “Our intent of sharing this news today is to apologize to tribal nations across North America.”