Chippewa Involvement: It’s Time We Bear Our Pride for the Tribe

It’s not something you see every day.

A group of more than 100 people, walking down the street on a chilly morning, carrying large plastic tubs.

Plastic tubs with human bones in them.

The air was brisk and the attitude was respectful as Central Michigan University students and faculty joined with Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe members to walk 4.6 miles to bring American Indian remains to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe’s Nibokaan Ancestral Cemetery.

On Nov. 4, Central gave the largest number of human remains back to American Indians since the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed in 1990. The act was a law that requires federally funded organizations to return Native American bones and funerary objects back to their culturally affiliated tribe. But although Central students should be proud of this act, they should also be disheartened that in the 20 years that the law has been in affect over 60 percent of the human remains eligible for repatriation are still sitting in museums and universities.

Dennis Banks, the founder of the American Indian Movement, spoke with students and faculty who attended the repatriation roundtable discussion the night before in the Park Library Auditorium,
“We [American Indians] have been a victim of many acts: massacres, burning of long houses, and to add insult to injury, digging up our bones and carting them off to universities and museums,” Banks said.
Banks then told the audience that it was time for non-natives to become emotionally charged and to stand up and fight with American Indians to get the bones back to their ancestral homes.
Central students are perfect for the job. The university provides many opportunities for students to learn more about American Indian culture, through classes offered like Elementary Ojibwe, North American Indian Cultures (ANT 320), Current American Indian Issues (ANT 365) and History of Native Americans (HIST 323). Also, the university hosts events during November for Native American Heritage Month and the CMU Powwow in the spring.
Because Central students bear the name “Chippewa,” it is not only their responsibility to learn more about the tribe and about American Indians in general, but also to help them fight for their rights. One of those rights is letting their ancestors rest in peace in native cemeteries, not displayed in universities and museums. According to Banks, the issue is so great that students applying to universities should find out if the schools are holding American Indian bones, and if they are, students should not go to those schools.
The first step towards fighting is to be informed. Because of Central’s proximity to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, students have more opportunities than many to learn about American Indian cultures and issues. The Ziibiwing Center, 6650 E. Broadway, is the museum and cultural center for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and provides visitors a chance to learn about the tribe from the tribe’s own perspective.
Another good place to start is at the Multicultural Center located in the Bovee University Center, which, during the month of November is hosting an exhibit of entitled “Americana Indian — American Indian in the American Imagination.” This exhibit focuses on the stereotypes Americans have of American Indians. One of the main stereotypes is the “Vanishing Indian,” or the belief that American Indian populations are dying and will soon be gone. Through this stereotype, anthropologists and universities can justify studying American Indians and their bones. However, American Indian populations are not dying out, and studying their bones as if they were is an insult to them. As Banks stated, it is just one more thing added to the list of atrocities the United States has committed against American Indians.
Whether or not students are as upset about this as American Indians are, they should at least be informed about the issue. There is no better place to find information about the subject than here at Central Michigan University.


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