Indigenous remains, sacred objects found on University of North Dakota campus

While the total is not yet known, around 200 boxes of sacred objects have been found and the remains of around 70 ancestors have also been located so far.

“Students gather around the eternal flame on UND’s campus.”
Students gather around the eternal flame on UND’s campus.
File photo

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Partial skeletal remains of dozens of ancestors, as well as sacred objects from Indigenous communities, have been found on the University of North Dakota's campus, the university announced Wednesday, Aug. 31.

UND President Andrew Armacost said he was approached in March by a team of faculty and staff members who in the course of their work found numerous sacred objects from Indigenous communities and partial human remains of dozens of individuals.

During a Zoom meeting Wednesday, Armacost informed Indigenous students and faculty about the findings.

While the total is not yet known, around 200 boxes of sacred objects have been found, and the remains of around 70 ancestors have also been located so far.

Laine Lyons is an enrolled member of Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and director of development at the College of Arts & Sciences. Lyons said university members including herself and Crystal Alberts, associate professor and director of the UND Writers Conference, began working late last year on trying to identify sacred objects the university may have in its possession. The university also began developing policies of how it came across these items and how to take care of them.


In the course of that work, sacred objects, like a ceremonial pipe and other items, were found.

In March, while attempting to look for other sacred items, Lyons, alongside Dr. Don Warne, then director of the Indians into Medicine — INMED — program at the UND medical school, found a box that had the remains of an ancestor inside.

Lyons said the area where the box was found was shut down immediately ,and everything was moved to a secure location. University administration was also notified.

The university is now beginning the process of returning the sacred objects and the remains to at least 13 tribal nations. Under the 1990 federal law known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, UND has the responsibility to turn over the ancestors and sacred objects to the tribal lands.

Lyons said the university sought the advice of tribal leaders to ensure the process of returning the items was done correctly and respectfully. UND decided to make no public statements about the ongoing work in accordance with the guidance and wishes of tribal representatives, Lyons noted. UND will be hiring cultural resource consultants to help with the process of repatriation.

During the Zoom call, many speakers said they know this is a heavy day for the university, but especially for Indigenous students, faculty and staff. There are a number of other resources on campus available for those who may need counseling services.

Alberts said the university is doing its best to make amends for all the wrongs that have been committed in the previous years against Indigenous people while adding she knows university staff won’t be able to make amends entirely.

“We’re going to bring them home,” she said of the remains, “not because the law requires it but because it’s the right thing to do.”

Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.

For story pitches contact her at or call her at 701-780-1134.
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