After nineteen years at Crisler Arena, the U-M Native American Student Association (NASA) moved its annual Dance for Mother Earth to Saline Middle School last year to protest what it terms the university’s “noncompliance” with the federal Native American Graves Protection Repatriation Act of 1990. According to officials at the U-M Museum of Anthropology, the university considered only forty-one remains in its collection to be “affiliated” with contemporary tribes, and of those, has returned seventeen (two tribes chose to leave remains with the university).
The decision to move the powwow cost NASA $50,000 in university funding, and attendance fell by about two-thirds, but NASA leaders say it’s worth it to publicize their protest. The Dance for Mother Earth will again be held in Saline on April 10 and 11 (see Events)–and NASA cochair Alys Alley vows that it won’t return to campus “until the university returns all Native American ancestral remains and belongings to their tribes.”
Though the U-M still retains 1,559 “unaffiliated” remains, it appears the dispute will soon be resolved: a federal rule that takes effect in May permits tribes to claim all remains discovered in areas they historically inhabited.
This article has been corrected and updated since it appeared in the April 2010 Ann Arbor Observer.