Cranbrook to give bones to Little Traverse band

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (AP) 8-08

It’s a matter of “doing the right thing,” according to the director of the Cranbrook Institute of Science, which plans to turn over the remains of about 60 Native Americans to the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians.

The bones have spent decades in the back rooms of the suburban Detroit museum, part of its vast collection of artifacts from cultures around the world. They belong to people who hunted and fished in what is now Oakland County hundreds of years before the first Europeans arrived.

This fall, Cranbrook expects to surrender the remains after publication of a notice in the Federal Register to alert other tribes that might want to claim the bones.

“This is a very emotionally and in some respects a politically charged issue,” institute director Mike Stafford told the Detroit Free Press. “We feel we’re doing the right thing. And I hope it inspires other institutions to do the same.”

Cranbrook’s collection of Native American remains is the largest in the state to begin the repatriation process, said Eric Hemenway, a researcher for the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians.

The tribe last year asked Cranbrook for the bones.

U.S. law requires federally funded institutions such as Cranbrook to return Native American bones that are found with artifacts affiliating them with a tribe, if the tribe requests it.

The law doesn’t require return of bones that aren’t affiliated with a specific tribe.

According to Hemenway, Michigan museums hold unaffiliated remains belonging to about 1,700 to 2,000 Native Americans. He said many museums have rebuffed repatriation attempts to keep the bones for research purposes.

“We feel that these are our ancestors, our great-great-grandmothers and -grandfathers,” said Hemenway. “It’s a respect issue. We feel obligated to care for our ancestors.”

Hemenway praised Cranbrook’s willingness to return the bones.

“They aren’t legally obliged to do this, but they’re doing it because they feel that ethically it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

The state’s 13 federally recognized tribes formed the Michigan Anishnaabek Cultural Preservation and Repatriation Alliance to seek return of the unaffiliated bones.

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