WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A new federal grant is helping the Kansas Historical Society return Native American remains to their tribes.
The KHS will use the funds to hire a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, coordinator. The coordinator will be dedicated to identifying and returning remains, some of which have been with the organization for decades.
NAGPRA is a federal law that’s been in place since 1990, which orders the return of remains to indigenous groups.
However, making returns hasn’t been a priority for the KHS until recently, according to the organization.
Martha Only A Chief has recently worked with the KHS to get the remains returned. She is the NAGPRA coordinator for Pawnee Nation.
Once a year, she packs her car with cedar boxes and makes the trek from Pawnee, Oklahoma, to Nebraska.
The boxes are filled with the remains of Pawnee tribe members she’s taking home to Nebraska for traditional burials.
“When people excavate our people up, it’s like taking their spirit, putting it back out here where they don’t belong,” Martha said.
In the past, it’s been hard for Pawnee nation to get remains back from organizations and give them proper burials, according to Martha.
“It seems like this younger generation, they’re wanting to give our items back, our sacred items,” Martha said.
Kansas State Archaeologist Nikki Klarmann is part of the push to return remains.
She led the effort to hire a NAGPRA coordinator at the KHS.
“It is important to get people home to their communities,” Klarmann said. “They shouldn’t be waiting, and unfortunately, it’s taken a long time. I can’t change the past, but I’m hoping the future will look better.”
The federal grant will allow the KHS to keep a full-time NAGPRA coordinator on staff for 18 months, according to Klarmann. She intends to extend that term to two years using state funds.
Her goal is to at least identify which remains belong to which tribes by the end of the two years.