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Ancestors Returned to Mother Earth in Michigan

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan held a Recommitment to the Earth ceremony May 17 to return 11 sets of remains to Mother Earth.
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The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and the Michigan Anishinaabek Cultural Preservation and Repatriation Alliance returned 11 sets of remains to Mother Earth during a Recommitment to the Earth ceremony today, May 17 at the Nibokaan Ancestral Cemetery on the Isabella Indian Reservation in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

Two of the sets of remains are being repatriated from the University of Nebraska State Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. The other nine individuals were discovered in May 2012 during a highway project in Iosco County.

“It’s always an honor and a privilege to take care of our ancestors,” Charmaine Shawana, a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Council, told The Morning Sun. “I have been taught these very well may be our own relations.”

Marcella Hadden/Niibing Giizis Photo Studio

The remains are carried to the Nibokaan Ancestral Cemetery.

The museum has had the two sets of remains since 1894, after M.L. Eaton removed them from Midland, Michigan in 1883.

The nine sets discovered during a road construction project outside of Oscoda, Michigan were dated from the 1820s to the 1850s by the Michigan Department of Transportation’s archeological staff and consultants, reported The Morning Sun. The remains weren’t all that was found—202 funerary objects were also discovered and were repatriated and reburied with the remains on May 17.

“They have been disturbed and need to be put back into the womb of our Mother Earth in a proper and respectful way,” Shawana said.

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William Johnson, a curator at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways in Mount Pleasant, told the ancestors probably lived during a time when local tribes were “evolving due to the encroachment of white settlers.”

He said the tribes were negotiating treaties with the U.S. government between 1795 and 1864. “Millions of acres of land were ceded, having a profound impact on our way of life,” Johnson said.

Marcella Hadden/Niibing Giizis Photo Studio

A Recommitment to the Earth ceremony was held May 17 to return 11 sets of remains to Mother Earth.

The Nibokaan Ancestral Cemetery was created in 1995 explicitly for reburying repatriated ancestral remains and funerary objects.

“The teaching is, when we die, we put back in the ground the remains because we took a lot out of Mother Earth to live,” Shawana told “We need to honor that, and give back what she gave us.”

“I’m delighted by the love and respect that was displayed during the reburial ceremony,” Johnson said after the ceremony. “My joy is further compounded by the fact that we have such a supportive tribal community. With the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Council, Anishinabe Ogitchidaw Veterans & Warriors Society, Men’s and Women’s Societies present, it was truly a joyous occasion. Not only have we honored the ancestors but ourselves as well. This privilege will continue to provide inspiration for us in the weeks to come.”

Marcella Hadden/Niibing Giizis Photo Studio