Remains of Alutiiq Ancestors Begin Journey Home

Anchorage Beach on Chirikof Island looking west. (Public Domain photo by USGS)
Anchorage Beach on Chirikof Island looking west. (Public Domain photo by USGS)

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Earlier this month, a Kodiak representative and the Army Corps of Engineers traveled to the lower 48 and reclaimed Alutiiq ancestral remains stored at Indiana University Bloomington. Professor Della Cook studied and wrote about the remains while they were at the university.

The remains fall under the management of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and staff has struggled to get them back to the island. The Alutiiq Museum’s curator of collections, Marnie Leist, helped obtain the remains from the university, and while she called the campus pristine, she said the lab where the university had stored the human remains was outdated.

She explains how her job caring for collections at the museum influenced her perspective.

“I have to dust and inventory and all that kind of work. And there’s no inventory, all the boxes were incredibly dusty, there was pest activity, old pest activity that was evident. There was use of yellowed, aging newspapers from Indiana that were used, which even for collections would not be considered appropriate, let alone for human remains.”

Leist says other than some tense moments when meeting with university representatives, the process went well. She says the remains are now in Missouri with the Army Corps of Engineers, which will make an inventory of the items in order to begin the repatriation process and return the remains to Kodiak.

She says there are ways to work with universities or individuals who want to research remains. The first step is to talk to people, and she gives an example from her experience at the Alutiiq Museum. She says the museum had proposed a potential research project involving ancient remains in Chiniak.

“The first thing you do is you talk to the associated tribe. Even if you don’t know who the associated tribe is, there’s always someone that you can talk to generally speaking, whether it be the regional corporation, so we worked with the tribe and the tribal council, and it ended up that we decided maybe it wasn’t possible at this time, but communication I think is essential.”

Leist says the goal is to have the remains on the island by 2018. Then, the community will be able to re-inter them and establish a memorial.

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