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Pawnee hope to rebury remains from Hastings museum soon 8-07

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – If all goes well, the Pawnee Tribe will be able to rebury the remains of more than 90 of its ancestors this fall on central Nebraska land the tribe once called home.

But before the burial, federal officials must approve the Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History’s plan to return the remains to the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. The plan must be published so other tribes have a chance to make a claim.

It’s all part of the lengthy process spelled out in the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The 1990 law requires federal agencies and institutions receiving federal money to return American Indian remains and cultural items to tribes.

Officials at the museum say they have been working to identify, catalog and return American Indian remains and artifacts for more than a decade. The museum has been working with the Pawnee Tribe for more than five years.

The remains in Hastings – which the museum says include the bones of about 91 people – are the single largest collection of Pawnee remains still held by a museum, said Francis Morris, the tribe’s repatriation coordinator. The tribe believes there could be bones from as many as 300 people included in the remains the Hastings museum plans to return.

“This is our first large reburial in a long while,” Morris said.

The reburial will take place on about 60 acres of central Nebraska farmland. Nebraska author Roger Welsch, who owns that land, has given permission for burial of the bones at any time, and ownership of the land will pass to the tribe when he and his wife die.

Welsch didn’t immediately return a message left Friday, but has said previously he decided to give the land to the tribe because he felt the Pawnee had rightful ownership of it.

Welsch has published more than 30 books, written columns for farm magazines and he filmed the “Postcard from Nebraska” segment for “CBS Sunday Morning” for more than a decade.

The Nebraska plains used to be home to the Pawnee, but the tribe relocated to Oklahoma in the 1800s when the U.S. government’s policy was to move tribes to what was then known as Indian Territory.

The Pawnee no longer put grave markers at their burial sites because they worry about grave robbers disturbing the remains of their ancestors again. The Pawnee believe that a person’s body should stay where it is buried because the person is secure there, Morris said.

“We feel once they are disturbed, they can’t go on,” Morris said. “Nothing good can come of it.”

The tribe doesn’t want to have to leave the remains at the museum until next spring, Morris said.

“They’ve been neglected for a long time,” Morris said.

Museum Curator Teresa Kreutzer-Hodson said detailed records were not kept at the time the remains were collected.

“Our incomplete records made it difficult to identify tribes,” Kreutzer-Hodson said.

The remains of about 10 of the 91 individuals still could not be identified, Kreutzer-Hodson said, but all those remains were from areas where the Pawnee once lived. So the museum plans to return those remains to the Pawnee tribe, which has agreed to bury them.

If federal officials object to the museum’s plan for those unidentified remains or if another tribe makes a claim, the burial will be delayed. But museum officials have talked with all the other tribes that lived in the area where the bones were found, and Kreutzer-Hodson said those tribes agreed to the plan.

Kreutzer-Hodson said once these remains are returned to the Pawnee about 90 percent of the American Indian remains in the museum’s collection will have been returned to tribes.

This burial may be one of the last major ones for the Pawnee who have already reburied the remains of between 1,200 and 1,300 of their ancestors since 1990.

“We’re just about at the end of our repatriation,” Morris said.

On the Net:
Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma:
Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History:
National Parks Service NAGPRA site: