Cornell University has returned ancestral remains to the Oneida Indian Nation that were inadvertently dug up in 1964 and stored for decades in a school archive.
“We’re returning ancestral remains and possessions that we now recognize never should have been taken, never should have come to Cornell and never should have been kept here,” Cornell President Martha E. Pollack said at a small repatriation ceremony Tuesday, according to the university.
Pollack apologized on behalf of the Ivy League school in Ithaca, New York, noting the “disrespect shown to these ancestors.”
The remains, possibly more than 300 years old, were unearthed by people digging a ditch for a water line on an upstate New York farm east of Binghamton in August 1964.
Police called a Cornell anthropology professor, who determined the remains belonged to a young adult male of Native American ancestry. Repatriation records recently filed with the federal government indicate the remains represent “at minimum” three people.
The remains were stored on campus until after the professor’s death in 2014, when they were transferred to the anthropology department. They were rediscovered by colleagues during an archival inventory.
“These individuals, an adult man, a child of four years or younger and another child or adolescent of undetermined age, will be once again laid to rest in the traditions of our people,” Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said at the ceremony.
Twenty-two “funerary” objects that were interred with the remains also were returned. The objects include pieces of pottery, a piece of leather, a large mammal skull fragment and an acorn.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires federally funded institutions, such as universities, to return remains and cultural items.
Cornell is among colleges, museums and other institutions returning Native American artifacts and ancestral remains. Colgate University in November returned to the Oneidas more than 1,500 items once buried with ancestral remains, some dating back 400 years.
The dig site in Windsor, New York. was once a large settlement located on the banks of the Susquehanna River, in the traditional territory of the Oneidas.