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Thursday, April 20, 2023



Serpent Mounds repatriation stalled

The Michi Saagig of Hiawatha First Nation have been working for several years on the repatriation of about 200 ancestral remains and ancestral artifacts removed from the Serpent Mounds national historic site, about 150km northeast of Toronto.

The park is home to ancient burial mounds that date back about 2,000 years. There are 10 mounds in total.  The largest is 60 metres long and 8 metres wide, shaped like a snake, that contains the remains of 150-200 individuals.  It's surrounded by eight smaller round mounds, each containing the remains of between 50 and 80 individuals.

The site was excavated in the late 1950s by an archeologist affiliated with the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Hiawatha First Nation has been wanting the ancestral remains and artifacts that are at the ROM repatriated for decades, although the formal process was only started a few years ago. 

Richard Johnston's excavation at Serpent Mounds, near Peterborough, Ont., took place from 1957-1960. (Royal Ontario Museum)

While the First Nation received approval to have the remains and items from the mounds returned, not everything from the park is included.

Near the mounds, three burial pits were also excavated.  The Huron-Wendat nation has made a claim to the remains and artifacts removed from the pits.

Chief Laurie Carr of Hiawatha First Nation says this has stalled the repatriation process.

"It's very frustrating that our ancestors are still sitting at the ROM because Huron-Wendat believe that they have claims to them and there's no archeological proof of any Huron-Wendat villages in our area," said Carr.

"There are a few sites around Rice Lake that are said to be Huron-Wendat, however they need to be substantiated." 

Carr said the Huron Wendat haven't come forward to meet with them, "which leaves us stuck."

There are ten mounds in total at Serpent Mounds national historic site, the largest being 60 metres long and shaped like a serpent. (Royal Ontario Museum)

"If they really cared about the ancestors they should be having discussions with us and they're not."

The Conseil de la Nation Huronne-Wendat did not respond to a request for comment. 

The Royal Ontario Museum declined to comment.

The ROM's board policy regarding repatriation of Indigenous human remains says "The ROM will not arbitrarily decide contested cases, i.e., cases in which more than one Indigenous group claim the same ancestors."


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