KU apologizes after Native ancestors found in museum collection

Repatriation efforts underway
The University of Kansas has apologized to the Indigenous community and has restarted repatriation efforts after Native American ancestors were found.
Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 8:40 AM CDT
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - The University of Kansas has apologized to the Indigenous community and has restarted repatriation efforts after Native American ancestors were found in its museum collections.

The University of Kansas says it has grown to be an institution with a notable record for research and innovation. Unfortunately, it said many historical research practices were hinged on colonialism. It said it is now working to right the harm created by those practices.

KU said that a recent “re-disclosure” from the Natural History Museum and Spencer Museum of Art found that the university is in possession of “culturally unidentified individual remains,” funeral objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony. These were found in Spooner Hall and the Lippincott Hall Annex.

The university sent out a letter to students on Sept. 20, to let the community know that it had been made aware that it was in possession of Native American ancestors in its museum collections. It said an effort to repatriate these items had been started - but was never completed.

“The continued possession of these human remains causes great pain for many in the Native community and beyond,” KU noted.

Currently, KU indicated that it is verifying inventory across campus previously crafted per Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requirements which accurately documents its previous repatriation efforts. As a university, it said it must continue to be attentive to difficult truths that culturally unidentified individual remains and objects remain on its campus.

“The university has a responsibility to tribal nations and the Native American community to continue a relationship built on dignity, respect and enduring support,” said a spokesperson for the school.

Provost and Executive Chancellor Barbara A. Bichelmeyer has apologized to the Native community and recognizes the painful process of repatriation.

To completely understand the implications of the incident, KU said it will prioritize the needs of Native students and the Native American community while continuing to support, listen and learn.

Through a commitment to the creation of a meaningful memory of KU, it said its repatriation process will include the following steps:

  • Forming an advisory committee with representatives from the Office of Native American Initiatives, Indigenous Studies Program, Native staff and faculty and appropriate experts.
  • Consulting with tribal nations in accordance with NAGPRA.
  • Supporting the need for spiritual leaders for students, staff and faculty.
  • Auditing all KU collections to present updated and accurate information.
  • Securing the Indigenous Studies Program a space out of Lippincott Hall.
  • Supporting the KU Native community gathering opportunities.
  • Implementing institutional repatriation policies and procedures.

The university indicated that it is completely committed to taking culturally appropriate actions as directed by an advisory committee.

“The intent in sharing this announcement is to publicly apologize to Native communities and peoples, past, present, and future, and to apologize to the tribal nations across North America,” the University said in a statement.

KU noted that in keeping with NAGPRA and its institutional values, it will continue to facilitate appropriate repatriation efforts which include NAGPRA protocols.

The KU Student Senate is set to meet at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 19, to discuss a new resolution which includes an explanation from the University as to why the remains were held, a dedicated space for the Indigenous Studies Program, as well as the closure of campus for a day to teach native history. The meeting will be held at the Kansas Memorial Union in the Alderson Auditorium, 1301 Jayhawk Blvd.