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KU shares next steps for repatriation of Indigenous remains found on campus

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The University of Kansas is taking action to reunite remains of Native American people and funerary objects recently discovered on campus with their rightful tribes, according to administrators.

Staff members believe KU is probably in possession of remains of about 200 individuals, though that’s a preliminary number. Students said they have learned that remains and funerary objects have been stored or used in research in Fraser Hall, Spooner Hall and the Natural History Museum in addition to Lippincott Hall, which is where offices of KU’s Indigenous Studies Program (ISP) staff members are housed.

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Several Native American students this week have shared their distress over the news.

“For me personally, this is a reminder that a lot of people are still incredibly culturally ignorant because I just cannot fathom how those who knew about this could possibly think that Natives would be OK with going to class or being in and around buildings with the bones of our relatives,” said D’Arlyn Bell, Cherokee Nation and doctoral student at KU.

Barbara Bichelmeyer, provost and executive vice chancellor; Nicole Hodges Persley, interim vice provost for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging; and Melissa Peterson (Diné), director of tribal relations, sent out a joint email Friday afternoon with an update on KU’s repatriation progress.

“The University of Kansas has grown to be an institution with a distinguished record of research and innovation. Unfortunately, many historical research practices are interwoven with settler colonialism,” the email begins. “As we grow, learn, and work to right the harm created by those practices, new updates and disclosures come to light.”

The university has launched a webpage to provide updates on the repatriation process. That can be found at this link.

KU is in the process of verifying the inventory across campus “that was previously crafted per NAGPRA requirements and that accurately documents previous repatriation efforts,” according to the email. An online federal database showed that KU was in possession of the remains of at least 380 individuals; some of those remains have been returned to tribes, but the process was never completed.

“The Provost apologizes to our Native community and recognizes the painful process of repatriation,” the email says. “To fully understand the implications of this situation, the University will prioritize the needs of our Native American community while continuing to support, listen, and learn.”

KU’s process will also include the following initial steps, according to the email:

  • Forming an advisory committee with representatives from the Office of Native American Initiatives, Indigenous Studies Program, Native staff and faculty, and appropriate experts.
  • Consulting with Tribal Nations in accordance with NAGPRA
  • Supporting the need for spiritual leaders for students, staff, and faculty
  • Auditing all KU collections to present updated and accurate information
  • Securing the Indigenous Studies Program a space out of Lippincott Hall
  • Supporting KU Native community gathering opportunities
  • Implementing institutional repatriation policies and procedures.

“We are fully committed to taking culturally appropriate actions as directed by the advisory committee,” the email says. “The intent in sharing this announcement is to publicly apologize to tribal communities and peoples, past, present, and future, and to apologize to the tribal nations across North America.”

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