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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary

Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains and Funerary Objects Potentially Affiliated with the Oglala Sioux Tribe in the National Museum of Natural History

Region: Plains
Associated Cultures: Oglala Lakota Sioux, Sioux

This report provides an inventory and assessment of human remains and funerary objects in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) affiliated with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, also known as the Oglala Lakota Nation. Documentation of human remains of Oglala affiliation was begun in 1993 in response to a family request for the return of the remains of a named individual, Shota ("Smoke"). As the repatriation of named individuals is afforded the highest priority as a matter of NMNH policy, the return of Chief Smoke's remains was accomplished within a few months of the family's request. The tribal repatriation claim, which had been submitted earlier by the Oglala Tribal Council, retained its place in the queue of pending repatriation cases.

This report addresses the remains of 43 individuals, including four whose names are known and one whose family affiliation is suggested in the museum's records. All were collected between 1866 and 1908 from sites in South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and Montana that fall well within traditional Oglala territory. Forty individuals were collected for the Army Medical Museum by U.S. Army medical officers, two were collected specifically for the Smithsonian by a physician at the Pine Ridge Agency, and one was acquired by an independent collector of Native American memorabilia and sold to the Smithsonian as part of a large lot of assorted cultural articles. The cultural affiliations of these human remains were determined through consideration of the territories occupied and used by the nineteenth-century Lakota; the sites of historic conflicts involving the Oglala, neighboring tribes, and the U.S. Army; and the knowledge and reliability of the collectors. These criteria have been verified through archival military records, published accounts, physical anthropological observations, and consultation with tribal members.

It is recommended that 39 of the individuals and the five funerary objects documented in this report be offered for repatriation to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The Oglala tribal representatives have expressed their intention to inform the descendant families of Black Foot, Two Face, Fish Belly, Long or Short Joe, and Smoke of the impending repatriation of their ancestors. The funerary articles described in this report include a skin dressing tool associated with one Oglala woman, a spokeshave and a horn spoon associated with a second Oglala woman, and a beaded cradle and beaded capelet that were removed from an Oglala grave or graves but are not positively associated with any of the individuals described in this report.

Two individuals whose remains are described in this report could not be identified precisely as to cultural affiliation. The geographic and temporal proveniences of their graves suggest an affiliation of Oglala, but other lines of evidence contradict this without offering a clear alternative.

The remains of one individual are identified in the museum's records only as Sioux, with no band affiliation. As the most likely subtribal affiliation of this individual is Lakota, it was recommended that the representatives of every reservation on which the Lakota people reside be notified of these remains and asked to come to a consensus regarding disposition.

Lastly, the remains of one individual were found to be associated with documentation too fragmentary to be useful in determining cultural affiliation. Neither is it possible to determine, from the skeletal elements present, whether they are Native American in origin. It was recommended that the museum retain these remains until further information regarding their cultural affiliation becomes available.

Repatriation Update
The 39 individuals and 5 funerary objects identified as Oglala were repatriated to the Oglalla Sioux Tribe on June 8, 1998.

The remains of one individual from near Ft. Robinson were repatriated to the Oglala on June 8, 1998 with the support of the Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

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Smithsonian Institute - National Mueseum of Natural History