US reaches agreement with Finland to return American Indian remains, artifacts with Utah ties

By Graham Dudley, | Posted - Oct. 3, 2019 at 5:11 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — The White House announced Wednesday that the United States has reached an agreement with Finland to repatriate American Indian ancestral remains and funerary objects from the National Museum of Finland.

The remains were excavated in 1891 from what is now Mesa Verde National Park, home to the Ancestral Pueblo people from 600 to 1300 A.D., according to a White House news release. Today there are 26 federally recognized American Indian tribes associated with the park, including Navajo Nation, based partially in Utah as well as New Mexico and Arizona.

The return was announced as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto visited President Donald Trump on Wednesday in Washington. U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement both presidents “acknowledged the sanctity of these items to American Indian and Pueblo communities of the Mesa Verde region.”

Tara Katuk Sweeney, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, said the agreement “recognizes the importance of treating these individuals and their descendants, who will be welcoming them home, with dignity.”

“It also reaffirms how important (it is) that Native American remains be treated with care and respect,” Sweeney said.

The release says that the National Museum of Finland inventoried its Mesa Verde collection in June 2018, finding over 600 items including about 20 individuals and 28 funerary objects.

The 1891 excavations in Colorado’s Mesa Verde were led by Swedish researcher Gustaf Nordenskiold, according to the release.

Graham Dudley

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