Date: October 2, 2019
WASHINGTON — Today, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt commended President Donald Trump and President Sauli Niinistӧ of the Republic of Finland for securing an agreement to return American Indian ancestral remains and funerary objects from Finland to the U.S. taken over a century ago from the Mesa Verde site in what is now Colorado. The significant cultural ties were reaffirmed during President Niinistӧ’s visit to the White House on the 100th anniversary of the strong diplomatic relationship between the United States and Finland.
“President Trump and President Niinistö acknowledged the sanctity of these items to American Indian and Pueblo communities of the Mesa Verde region,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “President Trump’s strong leadership resulted in bringing these Native Americans' remains and cultural artifacts home to their proper resting place in the U.S.”
“I want to thank President Trump and President Niinistӧ for this agreement to return to their tribal homelands those ancestral people whose remains were taken from the Mesa Verde ruins so long ago,” said Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Tara Katuk Sweeney. “The agreement recognizes the importance of treating these individuals and their descendants, who will be welcoming them home, with dignity. It also reaffirms how important that Native American remains be treated with care and respect.”
In 1891, Swedish researcher Gustaf Nordenskiold conducted excavations in what is now Mesa Verde National Park, removing a large collection of objects that included the remains and funerary items of the people whose home it was. The objects eventually became part of the ethnographic collection of the National Museum of Finland. In June 2018 the Museum completed an inventory of its Mesa Verde Collection, which contains over 600 items, including about 20 individuals and 28 funerary objects.
In 2016, the 26 tribes associated with Mesa Verde National Park worked with the Museum to identify the remains and funerary items they hoped to have repatriated. The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has worked closely with the U.S. Department of State to support these Pueblos’ and tribes’ efforts to repatriate the items. The U.S. will be working diligently on arrangements to transfer the remains and items to identified recipient Pueblos and/or tribes.
Mesa Verde is a complex of stone dwellings hand-built in cliff sides in what is now Mesa Verde National Park. It was home to Ancestral Pueblo people for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 C.E. Today, however, there are 26 federally recognized American Indian tribes that have become traditionally associated with the park:
The DOI works to support tribal efforts to repatriate items of cultural heritage offered in foreign auctions or held in foreign museums. DOI and the Department of State cooperate generally to support tribal efforts to repatriate tribal cultural items from foreign museums and auction houses upon request. In addition, DOI maintains an informal internal working group, co-led by the Office of International Affairs and the Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, to coordinate these efforts. Additional information can be found on the Office of International Affairs’ international repatriation website.