Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Comment period set for recommendations regarding American Indian human remains

The Advisory Committee on Culturally Unidentifiable Human Remains has submitted its final report to Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest, who has established a one-month comment period on the committee’s recommendations.

“We want to hear from all interested parties on these important recommendations,” Forrest says.

The report was submitted Sept. 16. The comment period will be open through Oct. 31. The complete report is posted on the OVPR website at research.umich.edu/policies/cuhr/.

The 12-member committee was chaired by Toni Antonucci, associate vice president for research, social sciences and humanities and the Elizabeth M. Douvan collegiate Professor of Psychology. The panel submitted nine recommendations that suggest a process for how the university might handle requests for the transfer of human remains and associated funerary objects now being held by the Museum of Anthropology.

Antonucci says the committee’s goal was to outline a “clear, fair and transparent process” that meets both the letter and the spirit of federal regulations and is respectful of the divergent opinions of interested parties.

Among the key recommendations from the committee are:

• That the university establish a clearly understood, formal process for handling requests for information about or requests for the transfer of human remains and associated funerary objects.

• That the university include any funerary objects associated with culturally unidentified human remains if the remains themselves are transferred.

• That the advisory committee, with some new members, become a standing OVPR committee to advise Forrest on transfer requests.

Other recommendations, included in a preliminary report from the committee, already are in process. Those include finding appropriate space to permit the respectful storage of Native American human remains and associated funerary objects; the hiring of new staff members to facilitate requests; the creation of a website to make information easily available; and reaching out to tribal leaders to facilitate a more cordial and productive relationship between American Indian tribes and the university.

Forrest established the committee in October 2009 to advise him on the development of university policies regarding the transfer of human remains and associated funerary objects held by the university for which the cultural affiliation with any specific Native American tribe has not been established.

When the committee was formed, the federal government was in the process of issuing new and comprehensive rules regarding the disposition of human remains to tribes. Those rules were finalized earlier this year and also recommended similar disposition of associated funerary objects.

Forrest asked that all comments on the committee report be sent directly to him. He says he would review all comments before establishing any final university policies. His contact information is:

E-mail: stevefor@umich.edu
Mail: Office of the Vice President for Research, 4080 Fleming Administration Building, 503 Thompson St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Phone: 734-764-1185