On Wednesday, Colgate University returned 1,520 stolen Native American funerary objects that were excavated by an amateur archeologist from burial sites within the Oneida Territory in upstate New York between 1924 and 1957.

According to a federal document, Colgate University’s The Longyear Museum of Anthropology purchased the objects in 1959 from amateur collector and graverobber Herbert Bigford, who excavated burial mounds across the state. Included among the artifacts are ceramics, pipes, animal parts, tools and beads.

The return marks the university’s fifth repatriation to Oneida Nation since 1995 when federal law required institutions and museums to catalog and begin returning Native American human remains and associated funerary objects. It took 27 years for the university to return every Oneida ancestor and burial object it held.

Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter called the decades-long practices of museums dealing with ancestral remains and cultural artifacts “indefensible” during the transfer ceremony held at Colgate University on Nov. 9. 

“These practices have been allowed to continue under the belief that preserving history is of the ultimate importance, without questioning the means of doing so,” Halbritter said. “They assume that it is possible while divorcing the history from the people to whom it belongs, presuming to tell our stories with stolen artifacts in unfamiliar places.”

Colgate President Brian Casey became emotional during the video-recorded ceremony. He said the collection should never have been acquired. 

“For this, on behalf of this university, I humbly apologize,” Casey said. “You think of your own families, you think of their stories, you think of their objects. And to think that they were separated—Again, I apologize.”

Colgate is still in possession of at least two ancestors, according to its self-reported data to the federal database in the early 90s.

Never miss Indian Country’s biggest stories and breaking news. Sign up to get our reporting sent straight to your inbox every weekday morning. 


More Stories Like This

Army Enhances Collaboration with Tribal Nations at Carlisle
Advocates Ask for Federal Protections for Peyote Habitat, Convene on Capital Hill
Safeguarding Tribal Jurisdiction in Minnesota
Coalition Gets $4 Million to Fund Collection of Oral Testimonies of Indian Boarding School Survivors
'It’s happy sad': Two Oyate Boys Leave Carlisle, Others Left Behind

Stand with us in championing Indigenous journalism that makes a difference. Your support matters.

Support our Indigenous-led newsroom as we shed light on critical issues, such as the painful history of Indian Boarding Schools. To date, we've published nearly 200 stories dedicated to this important topic, providing insights and awareness to a global audience. Our news is freely accessible to all, but its production demands resources. That's why we're reaching out to you this month for your generous contribution.

For those who commit to a recurring donation of $12 per month or more, or make a one-time donation of $150 or greater, we're excited to offer you a copy of our upcoming Indian Boarding School publication. Additionally, you will be added to our Founder's Circle. Together, we can ensure that these vital stories continue to be told, shared, and remembered.

About The Author
Native News Online Staff
Author: Native News Online StaffEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Native News Online is one of the most-read publications covering Indian Country and the news that matters to American Indians, Alaska Natives and other Indigenous people. Reach out to us at [email protected].