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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)
Executive Summary
Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains from St. Michael Island, Alaska in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Region: Alaska
Associated Cultures: Malemiut, Inupiat, Yu'pik, Unalit, Bering Straits Regional Corporation

2004
In compliance with the repatriation provisions of Public Law 101-185 (20 U.S.C. Section 80q), the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) Act, this report provides an inventory and assessment of the cultural affiliation of the human remains and funerary objects in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) from within the territorial boundaries of Native communities associated with the Bering Straits Native Corporation, Alaska. This report pertains specifically to remains taken from locations on St. Michael Island, Alaska.

Matt Ganley, Staff Archaeologist, Bering Straits Foundation wrote to the NMNH in 1993 and expressed an interest in the repatriation of any culturally affiliated remains from the geographical region of this corporation. In August 1994, Ms. Vera Metcalf, Repatriation Coordinator, Bering Straits Foundation, assumed repatriation responsibilities for the Corporation. The Bering Straits Foundation secured resolutions from village corporations and traditional tribal councils in the regional corporation authorizing the Foundation to act on their behalf in repatriation matters. On April 9, 1999, Mr. Pius Washington wrote to the NMNH on behalf of the Native Village of St. Michael. He requested the return of human remains and their associated funerary objects.

This report documents the remains of an estimated 14 individuals represented by 15 catalog numbers in the collection of the NMNH. The accession information indicates that all of these individuals were originally buried at different locations on St. Michael Island.

In 1881, E. W. Nelson collected the remains of six individuals that became part of accessions 10802 and 33553. The cranium that Nelson collected, assigned SI catalog number P228285, cannot be located in the collections at this time. The cranium of the individual assigned SI catalog number P242812 cannot be located in the collections at this time, although the mandible is present at the museum. In 1899, W.H. Osgood sent the remains of a single individual that became part of accession 50290. In 1907, C. W. Gilmore sent the remains of four individuals that constitute accession number 48191. In 1877, L. M. Turner collected the remains of two individuals that were included in accession 33553. He is also listed as the collector of the remains of two individuals included in accession 42109. The remains considered in this report that were accessioned under 33553 and 42109 were originally part of the USNM collections and were transferred to the Army Medical Museum. They were transferred back to the collections of the NMNH in 1898 and 1904, respectively.

The remains covered in this report are believed to date to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The records for this time period indicate that numerous small communities existed on and around St. Michael Island. On the island itself, two main villages influenced and led the other communities. Even after migrations of people from northern Norton Sound into the region in the mid to late nineteenth century, the two original main villages continued their prominence. These villages became the Native Village of St. Michael and the Native Village of Stebbins.

A relationship of shared group identity can reasonably be traced between the individuals from St. Michael Island whose remains are in the collections of the NMNH and the Native Village of St. Michael and the Native Village of Stebbins. It was therefore recommended that the remains of the 14 individuals in 13 catalog numbers that are present at the NMNH from this island be offered jointly to these villages. The Bering Straits Foundation, representing the Bering Straits Native Corporation was notified of these recommendations.

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