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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)
Executive Summary

Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains from Mackinac Island, Michigan, in the National Museum of Natural History

Region: Northeast
Associated Cultures: Chippewa, Ojibwa

2010
The museum received a repatriation request from the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians and the Bay Mills Indian Community for the human remains are present in the NMNH collections from Mackinac Island, Michigan.  The remains of a minimum of five individuals were collected by U. S. Army Assistant Surgeon Dr. William H. Corbusier sometime between 1882 and 1884.  In 1884, the remains were then sent by Dr. Corbusier from Fort Mackinac, on Mackinac Island, Michigan, to the Army Medical Museum (AMM) in Washington D.C.  The remains were later transferred to the U.S. National Museum, today known as the National Museum of Natural History, in 1904.
The original site on Mackinac Island from which these remains were removed is most likely a Native American cemetery located on the south central end of the island.  The earliest museum record of these remains identify them as “Supposed to be ‘Ojibewa’ [coming] from an old Indian burying ground on the island of Mackinac.”  The site is probably the “Old Indian Burying Ground” identified on maps dating to the time when the remains were exhumed.  The cemetery was situated immediately behind a historically documented Chippewa village, but the burial ground was probably used by various tribes visiting the Island to trade.  Craniometric analysis of the remains of the two measurable individuals showed that they were most similar to remains known to belong to the Chippewa population.
Although the Huron, Odawa, and Chippewa are known to have resided on and possibly buried their dead on Mackinac Island during the historic period, the specific cultural attribution ascribed by Dr. Corbusier as “Supposed to be ‘Ojibewa’” and several other lines of evidence support a cultural affiliation with the historic Chippewa for the Native American remains assessed here.  These include: the historical record of predominantly Chippewa use of the Island for habitation and burial during the century prior to Dr. Corbusier’s arrival; the proximity of the burial ground to a documented Chippewa village; and osteological analyses suggesting Chippewa biological affiliation.  Taken together, these factors indicate a preponderance of evidence in support of this conclusion. 

Historically the Chippewa inhabiting the region surrounding the Straits of Mackinac moved freely across the Upper Peninsula and along the shores of the Upper Great Lakes for hunting, gathering, and trading, but they regularly moved through the Straits of Mackinac and visited Mackinac Island to trade.  Specifically, Chippewa moved between the Straits of Mackinac and the Sault Ste. Marie region.  Today, the descendents of the Chippewa that visited and buried their dead on Mackinac Island are members of the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians and the Bay Mills Indian Community.  The Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians and the Bay Mills Indian Community are federally recognized tribes with standing to make repatriation requests under the National Museum of the American Indian Act.  Therefore, it is recommended that the remains of the five Native American individuals be made available for return jointly to the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians and the Bay Mills Indian Community.


Repatriation Update
The human remains were repatriated jointly to the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians and the Bay Mills Indian Community in April of 2011. 

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