KNBA - KBC

Alutiiq Museum receives grant for repatriation work

Jun 24, 2021

Father Innocent Dresdow blessing Chirikof remains (February 2017), AM794, Chirikof Archive Collection, Courtesy of the Alutiiq Museum & Archaeological Repository.

The National Park Service awarded a $56,254 grant to the Alutiiq Museum for a project called Return Them or Angilluki (ah-KNEE-loo-gee)

Museum collections curator Amanda Lancaster says the money will go toward the museum’s efforts in locating and researching remains, for possible repatriation. 

In the 1990s, the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, was passed to give Native American descendants, Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations a legal avenue to pursue the repatriation, treatment and disposition of their ancestral remains

Lancaster says the Kodiak Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Repatriation Commission was created in 2007. 

“That commission just sort of created a manual that laid out the repatriation protocol” said Amanda Lancaster, the curator of collections at the Alutiiq Museum. 

The commission’s original purpose was to repatriate more than 100 remains removed from Chirikof Island in the 1960s -- as well as other sites. 

The commission created a manual in response to rising questions in the communities on how to package, identify and bury remains once they’ve been returned.

Lancaster says that about 95 percent of the priorities set by the 2007 commission have been accomplished. 

The grant money will help update the manual to include practical information -- such as packaging remains, ceremonies and changes to NAGPRA.  

“The biggest change in that law is the Alaska Native corporations used to have standing to claim remains and now they no longer do,” Lancaster said. “Now it's just federally recognized Tribes.”

In previous repatriations, sometimes remains are returned to Tribes and communities in cardboard boxes -- separated by bone types. An update to the manual would recommend treating the remains differently.

“When we are rehousing remains that come back to us, we try to use biodegradable, breathable materials,” Lancaster said. “So if things come to us wrapped in plastic, we put them in muslin, unbleached muslin, and in boxes that are breathable cardboard boxes. It's really up to the Tribe, but we do want to be able to present them with different options of what other people have done.” 

In September the museum and Kodiak’s 10 federally recognized Tribes will have a meeting of the Kodiak Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Repatriation Commission, to further the discussion of future repatriation and changes to the manual on repatriation efforts.