Last updated Nov. 21, 2022
In the interest of transparency, the University of North Dakota offers public access to this website to provide answers on the most common questions asked about the repatriation of ancestors and artifacts from the University to tribal nations. As additional questions are received and meaningful answers can be provided, the site will be updated with the most current information.
Questions about the repatriation process and activities should be submitted to UND.inforequest@UND.edu. UND will strive to answer all relevant questions in a timely manner.
UND Statements to the Campus Community
Nov. 2, 2022
November 2, 2022
Dear Members of the Campus Community,
On Aug. 31, we made an announcement about the presence on UND’s campus of Indigenous skeletal remains – also known as ancestors – and sacred items. At that time, we offered our sincere apologies that these ancestors and items had not been repatriated under the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). We also stated the University’s deep commitment to seeing repatriation efforts through to their conclusion.
The news of our August announcement had a dramatic impact on our Indigenous students, faculty and staff members, as well as many who work closely with them. Many members of our campus are experiencing this pain, and it is important for each of us to understand this impact, as well as our obligation, under federal law, to ensure the ancestors and sacred items are respectfully returned to their tribal nations. The University and I have committed to make this happen. Please also accept my humble apologies for the decisions made by the University and its members that failed to show proper respect to the ancestors.
During the last two weeks, we have provided updates to the Indigenous peoples of the campus and alumni communities and to tribal representatives. Please allow me to share with you what we have shared with them. In August, we believed that the number of ancestors on campus to be in the dozens. Recall that an ancestor could be in the form of a bone fragment, a single bone, or even multiple bones. One purpose for making a public announcement was to raise awareness across campus so that more people would be cognizant of the need to keep their eyes open, as the repatriation team continues its work. Over the last six weeks, we have indeed found additional remains, among them at least one Indigenous ancestor in the care of the School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Additional Indigenous ancestors may be discovered within a collection of human skeletal remains that were used in the teaching of anatomy.
Our Repatriation Committee has been working closely with the School of Medicine & Health Sciences to bring all skeletal remains to our repatriation facility for examination by our consulting team of osteologists. We will ensure all ancestors, whether Indigenous or not, will be afforded the respect that they deserve. And we will continue to update our online repatriation pages with current information about our progress.
As we enter the month of November -- Native American Heritage Month -- this is an opportunity for us to come together as a campus community. We have campus members who are still processing this news. Let me urge each of you to keep looking out for one another, and to make sure we offer respect and dignity to those most deeply impacted. This is also a time to examine the holistic picture of how we support Indigenous peoples on campus through programming, support services, representation and actions that eliminate biases and barriers.
We have much work ahead of us, and the University remains committed to the repatriation of these Indigenous ancestors and the proper care and respect for the non-Indigenous remains. We also remain committed to providing periodic updates on our repatriation efforts to the campus community.
Andrew P. Armacost
University of North Dakota
Aug. 31, 2022
August 31, 2022
Dear Members of the UND Community,
I write this message with a heavy heart. In March, I was approached by a thoughtful team of faculty and staff members who raised a troubling issue. In the course of their work, they found on campus sacred objects from Indigenous communities. They also found human remains, which – in the tradition of tribal nations – are known as ancestors. These are believed to be partial skeletal remains from dozens of individuals.
First, I sincerely express my apologies and heartfelt regrets that UND has not already repatriated these ancestors and sacred objects as they should have been years ago. Second, I pledge my administration’s full support and commitment to the tribal nations impacted by this mistake. Our primary goal now is to work diligently until all ancestors and sacred objects are returned home, regardless of how long it takes.
Upon learning of this discovery, we reached out immediately to representatives from a half-dozen tribal nations. That number has now grown to thirteen and will continue to expand. We have been collaborating with them and seeking their advice for more than four months to make certain this work is done correctly, and this will continue until completion.
When the federal law known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was approved in 1990, the University had a responsibility to return ancestors and sacred objects to their tribal lands. Although this effort inexplicably fell short at UND, we are fully committed to righting this wrong. On campus, we have formed a NAGPRA Compliance Committee to work with tribal representatives in guiding our repatriation efforts, explaining cultural protocols, and assisting us in meeting the requirements of state and federal laws.
To conduct this process in a dignified and respectful manner, UND made no public statements during the initial contact phase with tribal authorities and the appropriate state and federal agencies. This decision was made in accordance with the guidance and wishes provided by the tribal representatives. During the early stages of this process, we have observed Indigenous customs and traditions in the handling of the ancestors and sacred objects, to the very best of our abilities.
We have also worked with government agencies to make certain we comply with the law as we undertake the repatriation process. The tribal representatives are leading efforts in their communities to share information about the repatriation work at the appropriate times and locations.
Repatriation will take time and hard work, perhaps several years. UND will hire the appropriate cultural resource consultants to help with this process. The remaining collection at UND is significant, with dozens of ancestors and several hundred containers of objects taken from Indigenous land and communities, requiring painstaking labor for identification and placement.
Coming on the heels of other recent revelations about historic wrongs inflicted on Indigenous people in the United States and Canada, members of our tribal communities in the region will undoubtedly be deeply affected by this news from UND. While I cannot take away their pain, I can apologize on behalf of UND for our mistakes. The tribal communities have my assurance that as a University, we are strongly committed to repatriation.
For those who are impacted by this news, we have resources on campus to support you. Professor Doug McDonald runs our Indians into Psychology Doctoral Education (INPSYDE) program, and he and his team are available with counseling services in support of Native American students, faculty, and staff. They can be reached at 701.777.4495 or 4497. The University Counseling Center also provides great support to students, and you can reach them at 701.777.2127.
Our UND land acknowledgement statement is a symbol of how seriously we – the University community – take issues impacting the Indigenous tribes of the region who call this land their home. Yet, the work of repatriation goes beyond an acknowledgment of the land and requires a true commitment to the Indigenous people who inhabit the land and to their ancestors. I pledge to see this through until all ancestors and sacred artifacts are brought home. As our repatriation efforts proceed, we will work with all involved to share timely information.
Andrew P. Armacost
University of North Dakota
- Gov. Doug Burgum and North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission Executive Director Nathan Davis
- North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott
The following were held Aug. 31, 2022 to discuss repatriation efforts on campus.
- Press Conference
- Indigenous Student and Faculty Town Hall
- Alumni Town Hall
- Faculty and Staff Town Hall
Repatriation is the process used to return human remains – referred to in many Indigenous traditions as ancestors – funerary objects, sacred objects or objects of cultural patrimony to the tribal nations from which they originated. The process is governed by the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which was enacted in 1990.
The process requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funds, such as museums, universities and state agencies, to transfer human remains and cultural items to the relevant tribe.
The University is working with tribal representatives, professionals with training and expertise in repatriation, and the appropriate federal, state, local and/or tribal agencies to resolve this as quickly as possible. The University’s leadership is strongly committed to completing the repatriation process for the return of the ancestors and artifacts to their rightful tribal locations. This repatriation process could take two or three years or perhaps longer.
Ancestors and cultural items are still in the process of being identified. They include the partial skeletal remains of dozens of ancestors. Other items include ceremonial pipes, drums, textiles, regalia, pottery, tools and other items related to village life.
Ancestors and artifacts were stored at various locations on the UND campus. They are being stored in more than 200 boxes in a secure location on UND’s campus. The exact number of ancestors is unknown but is thought to be in the dozens. UND will hire a cultural resources manager with a Native American-owned business to assist in the process and follow regulations for repatriation.
One challenge the University faces is obtaining a complete inventory, as required by NAGPRA. Many items discovered have been moved to a secure location on the UND campus where tribal representatives will work with other trained professionals to identify the ancestors and artifacts for proper repatriation.
UND is in contact with state and federal officials such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state archaeologists and directors of state historical societies. The University’s intent is to comply with NAGPRA while being sensitive to the tribal communities and the wishes expressed by their leaders. UND will continue working directly with the multiple tribes that attach religious and cultural significance to the ancestors and objects being repatriated, building relationships and a sense of trust.
Although UND began work in January to make certain the University didn’t possess any items required for return to the tribes under NAGPRA, the process accelerated in February when a search for a missing sacred pipe was launched. This incident led to the discovery of ancestors and other artifacts stored in different locations on campus. Until then, UND was not aware it had ancestors in its possession.
In March 2022, UND President Andrew Armacost was informed that Indigenous ancestors were discovered in a building on campus. An ancestor could be in the form of a bone fragment, single bone or multiple bones. A search for other ancestors was initiated. Armacost and UND Provost Eric Link then authorized the search for a secure space to house the items discovered. Ceremonial smudging was done by Indigenous UND faculty before other tribal representatives arrived in March. Smudging and prayers also were undertaken by tribal representatives and spiritual leaders in these spaces in August. Smudging is the ceremonial burning of plants or a mixture of plants for purification, usually applied to spaces or physical bodies.
Armacost, a UND faculty member and a member of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation then made the initial contact with tribal representatives. The dialogue between the University and the tribes continues to this day.
In late August, the University notified UND Indigenous faculty, staff, students, and alumni about the discovery of ancestors and Indigenous artifacts on campus. Shortly thereafter, the University made a general public announcement. One purpose for making a public announcement was to raise awareness across campus so that more people would be cognizant of the need to keep their eyes open, as the Repatriation Committee (officially known as the NAGPRA Compliance Committee) continued its work. Since then, we have found additional remains, among them at least one Indigenous ancestor who was in the care of the School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS), within a collection of human skeletal remains used to teach anatomy. Our Repatriation Committee has been working closely with the SMHS to bring all skeletal remains to our repatriation facility for examination by trained professionals, who will determine if there are additional Indigenous ancestors among them.
In a campus video message on November 2, 2022, Dr. Joshua Wynne, UND vice president for health affairs and dean of the SMHS, vowed moving forward that his institution would no longer use any human specimens of unknown origin in medical teaching and research.
One use of these items was for the purpose of academic study in anthropology and related fields. Scholars studied objects to learn more about the people from which they came.
The first instance of tribal artifacts being brought to UND goes back to the University’s inception. In a 1906 academic paper, Henry Montgomery, the first UND faculty member, wrote about “Remains of Prehistoric Man in the Dakotas.” After conducting excavations, Montgomery came into the possession of cultural items, as well as the remains of ancestors. It’s unclear where those items are located, or even if they remain on the campus.
The remains of additional ancestors were brought to UND by subsequent anthropological and archaeological digs in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. One item was donated to the University in 2007.
At this time, the total cost of UND’s repatriation effort cannot be estimated. The University is currently working with consultants to determine the time and resources needed to meet NAGPRA regulations. The University is committed to taking the proper course of action to repatriate all ancestors and artifacts in its possession in a respectful and culturally appropriate manner.
UND is not facing legal action. The University is acting with the greatest sense of urgency to enable repatriation to move forward as quickly as possible, bringing in outside experts to assist in this effort.
The University is working with multiple tribes that attach religious and cultural significance to the area, the appropriate federal agencies, and the North Dakota State Historical Society, as well as the states of Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana, to resolve this process as quickly as possible. The University’s leadership remains committed to completing the repatriation process for the return of the ancestors and artifacts to their rightful tribal locations.
As UND goes through the steps toward NAGPRA compliance and gathers the necessary information and documentation to complete its inventory, it expects to find information to better answer this question. But the University also acknowledges that this might not be possible because some of those involved are no longer living, while others either don’t possess detailed information or are employed elsewhere. Completing this process will require a committed team that includes cultural resource management expertise, a supportive administration, time and dedicated financial resources to assure NAGPRA compliance.
Speculating on what previous administrations knew and why certain actions were taken or not taken doesn’t advance the repatriation process. At this moment, UND is focused on correcting past missteps by engaging in the hard work necessary for repatriation to occur. The University is working with the tribes and the state and federal agencies involved as it moves forward to handle the matter in a dignified and respectful manner, as the tribes have requested.
How the situation began and how it evolved is complicated because it dates to 1883, the founding of the University, when the excavation of human remains and artifacts from Native American burial sites was common practice for early archaeologists. Decades have passed since these items arrived, making it difficult to trace how they came to be in the University’s possession.
This is a decision UND cannot make on its own. It must be approved by the North Dakota University System in conjunction with the North Dakota Legislature. Currently, UND offers scholarships for Native American residents, as approved by the state Legislature.
As the repatriation process continues, UND will share updated information regularly on its repatriation website and with tribal officials. It also will hold meetings with the campus Indigenous community to keep its members informed. The University recognizes the seriousness of what has occurred and is thoroughly committed to compassionately addressing the concerns of Indigenous people affected on our campus and throughout the region.
Yes, UND has been in contact with the NAGPRA Program. However, there are a number of steps that UND needs to complete before members of the NAGPRA Program become more involved. Consequently, UND is working with tribal representatives and other trained professionals to create an inventory of ancestors and sacred items on its campus. Once this inventory is complete, members of the NAGPRA program will become involved. Whenever ancestors, artifacts or other items from an archaeological site are found on campus, the proper state archaeologist for the item’s original location will be contacted. Site reports will be used to determine if the site is on federal land. The archaeologist or cultural resource manager for the federal agency of the correct district office then will be contacted.
Mental Health Support
Faculty, staff and students wanting mental health support relating to UND’s Indigenous repatriation are encouraged to seek support from the following resources.
UND Counseling Center
McCannel Hall, Room 200
2891 Second Ave N Stop 9042
Grand Forks, ND 58202-9042
UND Northern Prairie Community Clinic
Columbia Hall, Room 1300
501 N Columbia Rd Stop 7132
Grand Forks, ND 58202
The UND Indians into Psychology (INPSYDE) program will have Native psychologists and doctoral students available for informal support.
Dr. Justin McDonald
Support Not Affiliated with UND
Northeast Human Services Center
151 S Fourth St Suite 401
Grand Forks, ND 58201-4735
Call 211 for immediate help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including weekends and holidays.
Crisis Text Line
Text NATIVE to 741741 to reach a culturally aware trained counselor.