ICYMI: Trump Administration has honored Native cultures

Last edited 03/12/2021

Santa Fe New Mexican News Logo

Originally Published by the Santa Fe New Mexican

By: Tara Katuk Sweeney, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs

In 1891, Swedish archaeologists conducted excavations of cultural artifacts belonging to the tribes culturally connected to the Mesa Verde region, removing ancestral remains and funerary artifacts from their resting places in southwestern Colorado.

These sacred artifacts were on display in the National Museum of Finland for over a century, and for more than 70 years, the United States government attempted to negotiate the return of these items. However, it was only under President Donald Trump’s leadership that the Interior and State Departments were able to successfully work alongside tribal governments to secure the return of these sacred remains and artifacts to their rightful resting place.

When Trump took office in 2017, he prioritized issues important to Indian Country and sought to build strong partnerships with tribal leaders across our nation.

The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires museums and federal agencies to transfer human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony to descendants and tribes who request their return.

As part of fulfilling that commitment, in 2019, Trump and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland finalized an agreement to repatriate ancestral remains to the tribes historically and culturally connected to the Mesa Verde region; this agreement underscores the importance of the continued protection of the heritage and traditions of our Indian nations.

In September, a year of work by the Interior Department, State Department, and U.S. Ambassador to Finland Robert Pence came to a ceremonial culmination at the White House. Ambassador Mikko Hautala of Finland, representatives from the National Museum of Finland, Pence and Secretary David Bernhardt all joined Trump in the Oval Office to celebrate the long-awaited return of the tribal remains and funerary objects.

The president spoke about the importance of repatriating the remains and cultural artifacts for these tribal communities. Additionally, he has said that repatriation from foreign countries is just as important as repatriation within our country.

After nearly a year of careful planning and adherence to tribal protocol, the mission to return the remains to the United States has finally been achieved. In the days prior to the White House ceremony, members of the National Museum of Finland joined the tribes and their spiritual and ceremonial leaders associated with Mesa Verde to reinter the remains and artifacts in Mesa Verde National Park.

On behalf of the administration and all the staff that partnered together across federal agencies, we are humbled to help bring these tribal ancestors back to their original resting place. Culturally, American Indians and Alaska Natives hold the passing of our relatives and the caretaking of their remains in high regard. Many of us have our own unique customs and protocols associated with the funerary practice. That is why I am heartened that alongside our Finnish partners, the Interior and State Departments finally returned these remains to their proper resting place and closed this chapter of their journey in a respectful and honorable manner.

Repatriation is in important step we can take to partner with tribal nations and honor our ancestors as they should be honored. The Trump administration made a commitment to support and enhance tribal sovereignty and protect the forgotten American. I am proud that our administration — after decades of collective efforts — has honored that sacred commitment of repatriation and continues to maintain our commitment to the tribes and the American people.


Was this page helpful?

Please provide a comment