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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary

Naevahoo'ohtseme (We are going back home) Cheyenne Repatriation: The Human Remains

Region: Plains
Associated Cultures: Cheyenne

The report evaluates of the Cheyenne skeletal remains in the physical anthropology collections of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution, for repatriation under the National Museum of the American Indian Act (Public Law 101-185). It provides a summary of documentation for human remains which unverified Museum records indicated were Cheyenne. The document serves as the basis for a reevaluation of those records and a determination of the origin and cultural affiliation of the remains in accordance with the law. The remains are grouped into categories reflecting the quality of the evidence available for their identification and recommendations are made for the disposition of those remains culturally affiliated with contemporary Cheyenne tribal groups.

The Cheyenne case was initiated within the Repatriation Office (RO) of the NMNH in response to a set of requests for repatriation from two different groups within the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma between August of 1989 and October of 1991. Both requests called for the return of human remains collected by the U.S. Army following the massacre of Cheyenne Indians at Sand Creek, Colorado Territory, November 29, 1864.

Following their collection by Army surgeons in the western territories during the 19th century Native American remains were regularly shipped form territorial forts to the Army Medical Museum (AMM) in Washington, D.C. for study. In 1898, and again in 1904, Native American remains, with the exception of those of surgical interest, were transferred to the NMNH. Since that time they have been cared for as part of the Museum's physical anthropology collections.

Documentation of the Cheyenne remains from Sand Creek was combined with an evaluation of all remains designated Cheyenne in the collections as part of the inventory process mandated by PL 101-185.

A complete review of the accession and other documents available for the Cheyenne skeletal remains curated by the Smithsonian revealed that they fell into one of five categories of cultural affiliation to the contemporary Cheyenne. The categories included: DEFINITE Cheyenne, PROBABLE Cheyenne, POSSIBLE Cheyenne, UNCERTAIN, and UNKNOWN.

In addition, the RO recommended that the Museum hold in public trust the remains of an additional five individuals inaccurately designated in the Museum records as "Cheyenne" but which fall into the categories of UNCERTAIN (4) and UNKNOWN (1) cultural affiliation on the basis of a detailed examination of documentary and other historical sources.

Repatriation Update
Individuals designated in Museum records as " Cheyenne " (DEFINITE, PROBABLE, and POSSIBLE) cultural affiliation were returned to the appropriate tribal authorities under PL 101-185. Skeletal remains held by the National Museum of Health and Medicine and related to the NMNH Cheyenne skeletal remains by AMM accession were returned to the Cheyenne under a cooperative agreement between the two museums.

The skeletal remains of 14 individuals affiliated with the Cheyenne were returned to the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma in 1993. The remains of 17 individuals were returned to the Northern Cheyenne in 1993.

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Smithsonian Institute - National Mueseum of Natural History