UND President Andrew Armacost says repatriation efforts with area tribes could take up to 2 years to complete

Armacost: efforts will be led with tribal leaders’ input at the forefront

UND president Andrew Armacost
UND president Andrew Armacost. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – UND President Andrew Armacost has provided an update on the university’s repatriation efforts, the process of returning ancestral remains and artifacts to tribal nations.

Armacost met virtually with tribal leaders on Tuesday to apprise them of developments in the process, which by his estimate could take up to two years to complete. The university plans to release a statement by week’s end.

“We will continue examining the campus for artifacts and ancestral remains,” said Armacost. “Additionally, we are hiring a contractor to assess the inventory we have already uncovered.”

Armacost initially informed the public of UND’s repatriation efforts at the end of August . Although remains were first discovered on university property in March, the public was not informed until August in order to respect the dignity of tribal authorities.

Armacost says repatriation efforts will be led entirely by tribal leaders’ input. This differs from standard repatriation protocol, which typically entails inputting found artifacts into the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act or NAGPRA’s registry, and then informing tribal leaders of developments.


“Traditionally, institutions involved with repatriation publish records of remains discovered in the registry first, and then consult with tribes,” Armacost said. “We wanted to bring tribal leaders in well before, in order to determine how to best respect their ancestry.”

NAGPRA is a 1990 congressional act governing the transfer of ancestral remains between tribal leaders and the institutions that discover them. It also enforces criminal penalties for the unauthorized trafficking or sale of remains, and civil penalties for museums that are non-compliant with its requirements, according to NAGPRA’s website.

The university stresses it is in full compliance with NAGPRA protocol. It is also working with a team of agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state archaeologists and directors of state historical societies, according to UND’s repatriation site.

One reason for the lengthy timeline of repatriation, as well as the university’s approach of consulting with tribal leaders before NAGPRA, is the complexity involved in creating an inventory of ancestors and artifacts. As it stands, UND is storing all discovered artifacts in a secure location, and employing a cultural resources manager, to assist with identifying these items.

Armacost has promised to deliver regular updates throughout the repatriation process.

“We want to live up to the commitment of transparency we made at the outset of this process,” said Armacost.

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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