WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of the Republic of Finland agreed Wednesday that ancestral Puebloan remains taken from the Mesa Verde site would be returned to the United States.
Over a century ago, a Swedish researcher excavated in what is now known as Mesa Verde National Park and removed remains and funerary items of the people who resided there. The objects excavated eventually became part of an exhibit at the National Museum of Finland, and in 2016, the 26 tribes associated with the national park worked with the Department of Interior and the Department of State to identify the remains that they wanted to repatriate from Finland.
Those actions were commended by Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, who said in a news release that Trump and Niinisto “acknowledged the sanctity” of the excavated items.
“President Trump’s strong leadership resulted in bringing these Native Americans’ remains and cultural artifacts home to their proper resting place in the U.S.,” Bernhardt said.
Mesa Verde was home to the ancestral Puebloan people for over 700 years, and today, there are 26 federally recognized Native American tribes associated with the park, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Colorado.
The DOI’s Office of International Affairs is responsible for repatriation efforts, and it coordinates with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to “explore how to strengthen federal efforts to support international repatriation,” according to its website.
The U.S. is working to arrange the transfer of the remains from Finland to the designated tribes, according to the DOI.
The repatriation efforts were commended by the tribes and lawmakers alike. Tara Katuk Sweeny, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, spoke on the benefits of the agreement in a news release.
“The agreement recognizes the importance of treating these individuals and their descendants, who will be welcoming them home, with dignity,” Sweeny said. “It also reaffirms how important it is that Native American remains be treated with care and respect.”
Ayelet Sheffey is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.