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University of Illinois continues to house over 800 Native American ancestral remains

The Spurlock Museum has contacted Native American nations about all ancestral remains housed at the museum. The University of Illinois anthropology department, in contrast, has made about four percent available for return.

URBANA — The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is one of many universities behind in repatriating Native American ancestral remains — as required by law.

A ProPublica investigation identified over 30 ancestors at U of I related to the Sac and Fox Nation. Chris Boyd is in charge of repatriating the ancestors of his tribe, which is now based in Oklahoma.

“I’m just looking forward spreading awareness to where people from our own tribe would be interested and to where the future of our culture and our language and our history are in good hands,” Boyd said.

Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in 1990.

In the three decades since then, the University of Illinois has only made seven percent of the over 800 ancestors housed at the Spurlock Museum and anthropology department available.

The university renewed its commitment to returning ancestral remains in 2020 when it hired a fulltime repatriation specialist. Still, those in charge expect repatriation to take decades more.

The university did not provide a comment in time for publication.

Boyd hopes the ProPublica investigation will spark the federal government to commit more dollars to tribal nations, so they can more proactively find and reclaim their ancestors.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter@amihatt.

Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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