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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)
Executive Summary
Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains from the Nulato Area of Alaska in the Collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
Region: Alaska
Associated Cultures: Athapaskan

2005
In compliance with the repatriation provisions of Public Law 101-185 (20 U.S.C. Section 80q), the National Museum of the American Indian Act, this report provides an inventory and assessment of the cultural affiliation of the human remains and funerary objects in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) from Nulato, Alaska.

This report was initiated after the Smithsonian Native American Repatriation Review Committee asked for an update on the status of named individuals in the NMNH collections. The Repatriation Office researched human remains in the collections from named individuals and contacted the relevant tribes with this information to request assistance in locating lineal descendants. A named individual was identified as having come from the area around Nulato Village , Alaska . This community was notified and the Nulato Tribal Council requested that repatriation be initiated. During the process of researching the named individual and consulting with the Nulato Tribal Council, Dorothy Lippert identified two other individuals believed to be from the Nulato area. The Tribal Council then made a repatriation request for these individuals as well, and in the interest of expedience, this report addresses the named individual as well as the two others.

This report documents the remains of three individuals in three catalog numbers for human remains in the NMNH. No funerary objects were identified in the collections of the NMNH as associated with or coming from the Nulato area. In 1867, were removed from a grave near Nulato by William H. Dall, who identified them as those of the "son of Wooly satux." The remains were accessioned into the collections of the NMNH and cataloged in the Mammal division on January 9, 1868 but were transferred to the Army Medical Museum (AMM) a year later, in 1869. The remains were returned to the SI in 1898 and cataloged in the Division of Physical Anthropology.. It cannot be positively determined that these remains are those of the "son of Wooly satux," but it is certain that they are of a Nulato Athapaskan.

The remains of the second individual were sent to the Smithsonian by Edward Nelson. While stationed in Alaska working for the U. S. Army Signal Corps, he received the remains from traders in 1879, at which time the remains were identified as those of an “Ingalik” from near Nulato. The remains were accessioned into the collections of the NMNH on June 24, 1886 and transferred to the Army Medical Museum one month later. The remains were sent back to the NMNH in 1898 and cataloged in the Division of Physical Anthropology. These remains most likely were taken from the Koyukuk River region and not from the area considered to be Nulato territory.

The remains of the third individual were sent to the Smithsonian by Dr. Grafton Burke through Aleš Hrdlička. They were identified as coming from “Old Nulato” and were accessioned into the Physical Anthropology collections of the NMNH on September 29, 1929.

The original locations of the individuals collected by Dall and Burke are identified as "Nulato" and "Old Nulato," respectively. The people of Nulato Village are the descendants of the earlier inhabitants of Nulato. Given this relationship, these remains are found to be culturally affiliated with the Village of Nulato and it was recommended that the remains of these two individuals be offered to this village for repatriation. The remains of these two individuals were repatriated to Nulato Village in May of 2005.

The original location of the individual collected by Nelson was identified as "near Nulato" and "from the Koyukuk River." At a later date, the location was erroneously listed as St. Lawrence Island in the museum records. The Koyukuk River is within the traditional territory of the Koyukuk Native Village and is outside of the traditional lands of the Native Village of Nulato. These remains are found to be cultural affiliated with Koyukuk Native Village and it was recommended that the remains be offered to this village for repatriation, but as of December, 2005, repatriation has not occurred.

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