Ancestral Remains Found in Novi in 2003 – Reburied with Honor

   LANSING, MI – The Ancestral Remains of eight Anishinaabek (American Indians) uncovered by a construction company in Novi have been returned to the ground.  The Hannahville Potawatomi community, who has a historic presence in the area, deferred repatriation of the inadvertently discovered remains to the Michigan Anishinaabek Cultural Preservation and Repatriation Alliance (MACPRA).  On Thursday, May 19, 2005, MACPRA held a ceremony to properly return the remains to the ground and to thank the Sehn Novi, LLC group for cooperating with the tribes  to return the human remains.  "Why wouldn’t we be happy to honor the traditions of the American Indian tribes by returning their Ancestral Remains," asked Barbara Sehn-Day of Sehn Novi, LLC.  "We live in a very diverse world, and it is impossible to operate successfully without respecting all of the different cultures and communities found here in Michigan."
     "This ceremony marks more than just the return of our ancestors to Mother Earth," added Cecil Pavlat, MACPRA Chairman.  "This repatriation brings us one step closer to normalizing the practice of returning inadvertently discovered remains to the tribes.  MACPRA stands ready and willing to facilitate the return process without slowing down or impeding development projects.  Landowners and developers just need to contact us and we will send an appropriate representative to your site within 24 hours."
     MACPRA is an alliance of the twelve federally recognized tribes and two state historic tribes in Michigan.  An excerpt from the organization’s mission statement explains that they exist in part "*in order to re-bury Ancestors that have been removed from their resting places and are known to us, to bring home  to rest all remaining Ancestors who have been taken out of their aboriginal homelands and lands known today within the state of Michigan*"  More information about MACPRA is available on their website at
    The ceremony included a respectful reburial, a feast to honor the Ancestors and the presentation of gifts to thank the landowners, Fran and Sally Sehn, parents of Barbara Sehn-Day, for their consideration and willingness to work with the tribes to honor their burial traditions.  Although the landowners were willing to cooperate, the return of the remains was delayed for months by the county medical examiner’s office.  The delay was largely due to a lack of universal protocol for private landowners, developers and government agencies to facilitate the return of Ancestral Remains to the tribes.
     A step towards such a protocol was achieved in April 2004, with a  historic agreement between USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and MACPRA that provides a formal process between tribal entities and private landowners who receive federal funds for conservation efforts. Specifically, the  agreement helps protect, and eventually return to the tribes, any cultural artifacts and remains found by a landowner during NRCS-funded project activities.
     Donna Budnick, American Indian Affairs Specialist with the Michigan  Department of Civil Rights, worked closely with MACPRA and NRCS on this agreement and continues to work with various government agencies and private
landowners to facilitate the return of Ancestral Remains to the tribes.  "It is important that everyone in the public and private sector understands the critical importance of returning Ancestral Remains and cultural artifacts to  native peoples," said Budnick. 
     Linda V. Parker, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights  added, "I am very pleased that our Department had a role in facilitating the agreement between MACPRA and NRCS, and has a continuing role in honoring native traditions.  As a state agency charged with enforcing and protecting civil rights and embracing diversity, we are uniquely fitted to serve as a liaison between the tribes and the various state and local government entities.  It is  our hope that we can continue to be most effective in this regard."
     Both MACPRA and Budnick hope to achieve similar agreements with other federal, state, and local government entities as well as private developers to protect the significant number of Ancestral Remains and cultural artifacts  inadvertently unearthed each year in Michigan.  If you are a landowner or project developer and you discover Ancestral Remains on your property, please  contact Cecil Pavlat at (906) 632-7480, or Donna Budnick at (at (517)-335-3165.