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Haida First Nations repatriate human remains from USA

After two years of negotiations and fundraising, the Haida of British Columbia, Canada are travelling to New York on September 14 to repatriate 46 Haida human remains from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York and 2 Haida human remains from the Oakland Museum in California. Both museums are returning the ancestral remains outside of the NAGPRA.

The skeletal remains have been in the AMNH for over 100 years since CF Newcombe collected them while on an expedition in 1897 and 1901. While traveling to Haida villages to purchase cultural materials for American and Canadian museums, Newcombe also looted graves. During this time, scholars believed that aboriginal tribes were disappearing and that relics of a dying race needed to be preserved. Thousands of skulls are still in museums around the world.

The Haida have been proactively repatriating Haida human remains for the past seven years. They have reburied over 200 ancestral remains from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the University of British Columbia, the Royal BC Museum and many private collections.

The repatriation process is an elaborate one because the Haida believe in honouring their ancestors with the same Haida traditions they honour their deceased loved ones with. 26 Haida delegates including hereditary leaders, elders and youth will travel to New York to escort their ancestors home. The ancestors will be wrapped in traditional regalia made by the school children and buried in bentwood cedar boxes made by young artists. The Haida expect to pay over $50,000 for the whole process.

A send-off Feast will be held in the Friendship Centreís Simon Baker Room in Vancouver on Friday, September 13th at 6:00PM.

The public is invited to a traditional Haida dance performance at 1:00PM on Sunday, September 15 at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York to commemorate the repatriation effort.

After the delegationís return to Haida Gwaii on September 22, the whole community will celebrate their return at the Repatriation Reburials and Feasts in Skidegate on September 26 and in Old Massett on September 28, 2002.

The repatriation movement will continue as the Haida work toward the return of 131 ancestral remains from the Chicago Field Museum, 7 from the Smithsonianís National Museum of Natural History and 2 from British Museums.

For more information contact: Haida Repatriation Members Lucille Bell at (250) 626-5115; Andy Wilson at (250) 559-8670; in New York at (212) 787-1100 or see the Haida Repatriation Website at:
virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Inuit_Haida/haida/english/repatriation/index.html and The American Museum of Natural History: Ann Canty at (212) 769-5973

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