DEPARTMENTAL STATEMENT ON ETHICS OF RESEARCH AND STEWARDSHIP OF ANCESTRAL REMAINS AND CULTURAL MATERIALS

The Department of Anthropology at Columbia University is committed to the ethical pursuit of knowledge, and the responsible stewardship of that which is entrusted to us in the course of our research, including diverse materials of cultural value and significance. As heirs to a lengthy history of anthropological research, we are also committed to the ethical stewardship of objects and collections that were generated or acquired by our predecessors. To that end, we are engaged in an ongoing process of identifying and inventorying materials on site, consulting with relevant professional and cultural organizations and authorities to determine provenance, and working to ensure the well-being and, where appropriate, repatriation of objects and materials of cultural value and significance to the communities whence they originated.

We are guided in our efforts by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), and by international treaties, professional protocols, and our own commitments to just and responsible research practice.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was enacted by Congress in 1990. NAGPRA both acknowledges the rights of lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations to the return of human remains and certain cultural items, and provides a mechanism to do this.

In 2002, the Department of Anthropology inventoried a collection of human remains from Okiedan Butte, and Sheyenne-Cheyenne Site in Ransom County ND, and On-A-Slant Village (site 32MO26), Morton County, ND. These were removed during excavations in 1938, led by William Duncan Strong and jointly sponsored by Columbia University and the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Originally, Strong brought the human remains to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) where they were placed on “permanent loan.” In January 2002, a detailed assessment of the human remains was made by researchers at Columbia University, and the AMNH subsequently transferred them to the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University.

In compliance with NAGPRA, the Department of Anthropology published notices on the federal registrar and notified representatives of the following tribes: Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana; Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Oklahoma; Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, South Dakota; Crow Creek Sioux Tribe of the Crow Creek Reservation, South Dakota; Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe of South Dakota; Lower Brule Sioux Tribe of the Lower Brule Reservation, South Dakota; Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Montana; Oglala Sioux Tribe, South Dakota; Rosebud Sioux Tribe of the Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota; Santee Sioux Nation, Nebraska; Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North & South Dakota, Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota; and the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.

None of the aforementioned groups or any group that has permission under NAGPRA to claim these remains have requested repatriation.  As such, Columbia has an obligation to care for these remains until such a request is made. 

More information regarding the Department of Anthropology’s work with respect to human remains may be found on the federal register at:

In 2024, the Department of Anthropology began taking steps to comply with new NAGPRA regulations, which went into effect on January 12, 2024.