DOI finalizes return of Natve remains, funerary objects from Finland

09/21/2020 12:30 PM
WASHINGTON – Last year, President Donald Trump and President Niinistӧ of Finland finalized an agreement to return American Indian ancestral remains and funerary objects taken more than a century ago from what is now Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

On Sept. 17, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt, Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Tara Katuk Sweeney and other officials joined Trump in the Oval Office to recognize the cultural and ancestral importance of these items being returned safely to the Mesa Verde region. 

“The leadership of President Trump and President Niinistӧ of Finland resulted in the return of these important objects to their rightful place in Indian Country, said Bernhardt. “They are to be commended for their solemn efforts.” 

Sweeney said repatriating ancestral remains to the tribes that are culturally connected to the Mesa Verde region underscores the importance of continued protection of the heritage and traditions of Indian nations.

In 1891, Swedish research Gustaf Nordenskiold conducted excavations in what is now Mesa Verde National Park, removing a large collection of American Indian ancestral remains, funerary items and other cultural items. Mesa Verde is a complex of stone dwellings hand-built into cliffs, and was home to ancestral Pueblo people for more than 700 years, from 600 to 1300 C.E. The excavated items became part of the ethnographic collection of the National Museum of Finland. 

Since 2016, the U.S. government, led by the State Department, with support from Mesa Verde National Park and others at the Interior, has supported the associated tribes in their request to repatriate certain items from the Nordenskiold collection identified as ancestral remains, and cultural items such as funerary objects as defined under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Under NAGPRA, federal law requires that U.S. museums and federal agencies transfer human remains and funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony to lineal descendants, Indian tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations that have requested them. 

Although NAGPRA does not apply internationally, the United States refers to the national policy established by NAGPRA in its support for tribal requests for repatriation from foreign countries. This is one of several international repatriations from foreign museums that Interior has supported in recent years in response to tribes’ requests for assistance. Interior coordinates with the departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security to support tribes seeking repatriation of cultural items held abroad in museums or private collections or sold at foreign auctions.


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