08 October, 2019
The government of Finland plans to send the ancestral remains of Native American tribes to tribal representatives. The remains came from an area now known as Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado.
The move is part of an agreement between Finland and the United States.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump announced the agreement last week. It said Finland will return the remains of about 20 people and 28 funerary objects. They all were taken from the Mesa Verde area more than 100 years ago.
A Swedish researcher recovered the human remains and objects during a dig in 1891. Hundreds of objects later became part of the collection of the National Museum of Finland.
Trump and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto agreed that the remains and objects are important to the more than 20 tribes with cultural ties to Mesa Verde.
The area is known for its hundreds of stone structures that early people built on the sides of cliffs.
The agreement guarantees that the remains and objects will be brought "to their proper resting place in the U.S.," said U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
Plans for the returning remains
Clark Tenakhongva is a leader for the Hopi Tribe. He said tribes hope to receive the collection by early next year. And he said the tribes would make sure that funerary objects are buried with the remains in the general area from where they were taken.
A ceremony is planned, he added.
"They need to be returned there so they can safely return to the spirit world, in the next world," Tenakhongva said. "Hopi always believe, like most cultures and people, when you pass on you're going to return to God or Jesus. And we return back to the hands of the creator who brought us here."
The agreement comes as U.S. lawmakers have pushed for legislation to ban collectors and dealers from exporting Native American ceremonial objects. The proposal would make it easier for the government to recover Native American items that turn up at sales around the world.
In 2016, French dealers were forced to halt the sale of a ceremonial shield from Acoma Pueblo, a Native American village in the state of New Mexico. Leaders from the tribe said it was taken from their village many years ago.
Earlier this year, a U.S. federal court called for the shield to be released to the U.S. Embassy in Paris so it could be returned.
Efforts to return the human remains and objects from Mesa Verde started in 2016. That was when tribes with ties to the national park area began working with the Finnish museum to identify its human remains and funerary objects.
More tribal reaction
The Hopi Tribe in northeastern Arizona was among those leading the effort. Other tribes included the Navajo Nation, the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute, the Mescalero and Jicarilla Apache tribes, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, and 19 pueblos.
Navajo President Jonathan Nez described the agreement between Finland and the U.S. as a step in the right direction.
"This is an unfortunate and long-standing issue that many tribes have dealt with including the Navajo Nation," he said.
E. Paul Torres, chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, said tribal leaders look forward to the repatriation. He called the cultural items "sacred living footprints of our ancestors."
The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
park - n. a piece of public land in or near a city that is kept free of houses and other buildings and can be used for pleasure and exercise
cliff - n. a high, steep surface of rock, earth, or ice
shield - n. a large piece of metal, wood, etc., carried by someone (such as a soldier or police officer) for protection
pueblo - n. group of Native American homes that have flat roofs and that were used in the past in the southwestern U.S.
unfortunate - adj. having bad luck