Indiana University, tribal nations complete Angel Mounds repatriation

Indiana University and several federally recognized tribal nations have completed the repatriation of the Angel Mounds collection in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

An aerial shot of Angel Mounds
The Angel Mounds National Historic Landmark and State Historic Site in Evansville, Indiana. Photo by Mike Linderman, Angel Mounds State Historic Site

Passed in 1990, NAGPRA mandates the return of Native American human remains and cultural items to tribal nations. This repatriation includes the remains of over 700 individuals unearthed from the Angel Mounds National Historic Landmark and State Historic Site in Evansville, Indiana, starting in the 1930s.

“After so many years, they are returning home,” said Mike Linderman, western regional director for state historic sites at the Indiana State Museum and manager for Angel Mounds State Historic Site.

“I deeply appreciate the work by my IU and museum colleagues who took part in the sacred repatriation and reburial of the ancestral remains from our campus to Angel Mounds,” IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel said. “This somber, necessary and important experience will remain in our hearts forever. I am grateful for the integrity, sensitivity and care with which these human beings were restored to their proper homes.”

Tribal nations indicated their desire for IU to focus specifically on Angel Mounds at a November 2016 15-tribe consultation in Oklahoma, an event sponsored by a National NAGPRA Consultation grant. IU NAGPRA Director Jayne-Leigh Thomas said they immediately got to work after returning to Bloomington.

“There was a lot to figure out,” Thomas said. “A project this large requires a lot of coordination, organization, planning and teamwork.”

In addition to working with the Quapaw Nation, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and the Shawnee Tribe, IU worked closely with representatives from the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, which includes Angel Mounds.

“It was an honor to be a part of this and to have helped facilitate something so incredibly meaningful,” said Michele Greenan, director of archaeology for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites.

“In working with collaboration and consultation with Indiana University and the other tribes, we arrived at the date near the spring equinox for the reburial,” said Quapaw Nation NAGPRA coordinator Carrie Wilson.

Many Quapaw Nation Business Committee members traveled to Evansville for the reburial, and Solomon Jones was the traditional cultural practitioner who led the ceremonies for the tribe.

“Reburying during the spring equinox was meaningful on many different fronts and represented a spiritual healing of going forward,” Wilson said. “It was done humbly, with respect and in a good way. We hope the community will continue to be supportive of the fact that this site is sacred to American Indians and be respectful.”

“NAGPRA is about human rights, respecting tribal sovereignty and federal law,” Thomas said. “We still have a long way to go, but we are so incredibly honored and committed to seeing this work completed.”

“It was an honor and an incredibly moving experience for our IU colleagues involved in the reburial of more than 700 Native American ancestors at Angel Mounds,” said Fred H. Cate, IU vice president for research, Distinguished Professor and C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law at the IU Maurer School of Law. “We hope that this is an important step toward even closer collaborations with Native American nations moving forward.”

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