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Varnum Marks Native American Heritage Month

November 17, 2015
American Indian Law Advisory

This November marks the 25th anniversary of Native American Heritage Month, originally declared in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. This month we also recognize the 25th anniversary of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This act mandates that all federal agencies and institutions that receive government funding must return Native American cultural items to true descendants or culturally affiliated Indian tribes. In part of Public Law 101-601, Congress attempts to "strike a balance between the interest in scientific examination of skeletal remains and the recognition that Native Americans, like people from every culture around the world, have a religious and spiritual reverence for the remains of their ancestors."

This past summer, Michigan's Saginaw Chippewa Indians were able to use NAGPRA to reclaim ancestral remains that may have been looted as far back as the 1860s by soldiers sent to establish Ft Brady in the Upper Peninsula. Hundreds of museums across the country hold such items, and as a part of compliance with federal law, several cultural institutions notified the Chippewas that tribal representatives were invited to identify the remains for repatriation. Ultimately, the Saginaw Chippewas visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the Toledo Zoological Society, and the Dearborn Historical Museum. The relics that were housed in these various places have been returned to their rightful burial sites in Michigan.

Varnum recognizes Native American Heritage Month as well as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act as important cultural markers for Michigan's sovereign Indian nations.

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