Reburial Ceremony on Afognak Island
Sometimes the biggest advances in museum work are not what you add to your collection but what you return. The Alutiiq Museum achieved an important milestone in the summer of 2009, working with Alutiiq organizations to complete the first repatriation of human remains from our repository.
Although the Alutiiq Museum does not collect human remains, we care for a small number of remains turned in by collectors, law enforcement officers, and land managers. Our goal is to provide respectful care until members of the Alutiiq community can decided how to proceed. Determining whom to contact, which Native organizations should take responsibility for a set of remains, and how the remains will be treated is a complicated process. In addition to the many social, emotional, and logistical issues surrounding the care of human remains, there are federal laws that govern how museum and tribal organization can participate in repatriations.
In july of 2009, following the museum’s efforts to assist Alutiiq organization in understanding the repatriation process, the Afognak Native Corporation, the Native Village of Port Lions, and the Native Village of Afognak joined forces to claim and rebury two sets of prehistoric ancestral remains from their homeland.
The remains were returned to the soil or Afognak Island near the Dig Afognak Camp. More than 50 people gathered around the gravesite while Patricia Kozak, a member of the recently formed Kodiak Alutiiq Sugpiaq Repatriation Commission, explained repatriation and the reasons for the reburial. Then, Kozak transferred the remains into small wooden boxes built by her brother Juney Mullen, and Russian Orthodox Priest Father Juvenaly gave a special sermon, approved for the occasion by the Bishop of Alaska. After a one-hour ceremony, Native Village of Afognak Council Member, John Larsen, placed the boxes in the burial site. All present sprinkled dirt on the grave and received a blessing with holy water, before the grave was covered to provide a final, peaceful rest for these unnamed but important Alutiiq people.