EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – A student organization is protesting the presence of indigenous human remains and funeral objects held by the University of Texas at El Paso.
The protest was organized by ARISE (Academic Revival of Indigenous Studies and Education) and was held Tuesday, April 11, on campus. A similar protest is planned for Wednesday, April 12.
UTEP’s Centennial Museum is in possession of the remains for 47 Native Americans, according to research done by national nonprofit news organization ProPublica.
Under the Native American Graves and Protection and Repatriation Act passed in 1990, museums and federal agencies must follow a process for Native American human remains and cultural items that were removed from federal and/or tribal lands, according to ARISE.
According to the group, UTEP has not returned any of the 47 reported remains or 11 associated funeral items.
“Some of those remains have ancestral ties to local indigenous groups of El Paso, of whom many students at the university descend,” according to a press release sent out about the protest.
According to the release, ARISE would like UTEP to make a public statement about the remains, that UTEP host a public forum and UTEP hire a consultant that is trained in handling and following federal guidelines for indigenous remains.
ARISE is a registered student organization of indigenous and non-indigenous students at UTEP that has been working for the past 10 years to educate the campus and community about indigenous diversity, history, current events and issues.
UTEP said that it has made “significant efforts” over the years to repatriate indigenous remains.
“UTEP has repatriated some remains, and some tribes have indicated they did not want repatriation,” read a statement released by UTEP about the protest.
“Most remains at UTEP are isolated fragments recovered during ecological or archaeological studies and only later discovered to be human remains. In some cases, identifying the appropriate custodians may not be possible,” the statement continued.
“UTEP has listed remains in our custody on the national Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) database, to ensure information is available to tribes that seek repatriation.
“UTEP is fully committed to facilitating the appropriate repatriation of remains and does not seek to retain custody of remains unnecessarily. UTEP does not display nor profit from remains in its custody.”