The remains of four members of the Alutiiq community arrived this week at their final resting place in a cemetery in Kodiak. Members of the Sun’aq Tribe and the Alutiiq Museum gathered at the Kodiak Municipal Cemetery for the interment on Monday, June 6. The funeral service was conducted by the local Russian Orthodox Church.
April Counceller is the executive director of the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, who coordinated the reburial. She said the comeback was long overdue.
“There is a growing realization that it is not right or just to preserve ancestral human remains,” she said.
Of the four individuals interred, one was repatriated from a university collection and two were returned by the Alaska State Museum. The fourth was found during construction work on private land.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, which was passed in 1990, was intended to codify the process of returning cultural objects – including human remains – from institutions that receive federal funding to the tribes to which they belong, bBut the counselor said it was slow. The museum has identified the remains of more than 160 Indigenous people who have yet to be repatriated to Kodiak – and there are likely others they don’t know about; the US Department of the Interior announced last year he was considering modifying NAGPRA to speed up repatriations.
The adviser said the remains of the four people recently buried in Kodiak were too old to identify – but there is a feeling they are finally home.
“We consider any ancestral remains part of our family,” she said. “And for the people who have been reburied, I can only think that they can now feel some peace.”
It’s a step in the right direction, according to the adviser, which probably won’t be the last.