ROCHESTER, NY (WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) – The Oneida Indian Nation held a ceremony on Wednesday, August 2 to repatriate ancestral remains returned to them by a Rochester museum.
The Nation and the Rochester Museum and Science Center came together to repatriate the remains of 19 people as well as an assortment of funerary objects. The event included a traditional Oneida acknowledgment of the remains, as well as remarks made by museum staff.
“Events like this allow us to move past these failures with a chance for cultural institutions to take accountability and make amends. They are a path to a future we can all take pride in, where Native people and their cultures are respected, our inclusion is valued and our dignity is unquestioned,” Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said in a statement. “Today’s repatriation is so much more than the simple return of remains and cultural artifacts. It is an acknowledgment of these ancestors’ status as real people who lived rich lives and deserved dignity in life and death.”
In all, remains of 19 people – which includes five adult men, three adult women and two adolescent girls – were returned to the Oneida Nation. The remains were of people who lived during various periods of history between 200 and 3,000 years ago. The remains were exhumed by the museum or donated to or purchased by the museum between 1928 and 1979, where they have remained ever since.
“Today is a significant occasion as museums, including the RMSC, recognize the trauma we have caused and participate in the creation of a more just future,” Rochester Museum and Science Center president Hillary Olson said in a statement. “The RMSC has played a role in eroding Native American rights to dignity and self-determination. We have perpetuated harmful practices including the excavation, collection, study, and display of Native American ancestors and their belongings. RMSC archaeologists and others removed these 19 Oneida ancestors from their resting places, their communities, and their descendants. These individuals were placed in the Museum as early as 1928 and as recently as 1979, where they have been studied and documented. Today we acknowledge this unjust legacy of the past and take a small step toward repairing these harms by returning the ancestors and their belongings.”
This is the second such repatriation of ancestral remains from the museum’s collections. A similar repatriation and restoration occurred in 2000, with the ancestral remains of 25 people restored.
The ceremony concluded with Olson and Halbritter signing transfer documents confirming the receipt of the repatriated remains.