More than 200 walk American Indian remains to tribal cemetery

Sonya Atalay sang softly to her relatives on a cold Thursday morning.

The Indiana resident punctuated each note with a thrust of her hide-covered rattle into the air, so they could hear her song and see her heart.

“I try to speak to them when I am carrying the boxes (of American Indian remains) in our language,” Atalay said, “so they can hear something they recognize.”

Atalay, an archaeology professor at Indiana University, marched alongside more than 200 walkers Thursday for the “Walk Them Home” ceremony, a part of Native American Heritage Month.

The ceremony was a 4.6-mile walk to transfer 150 American Indian remains from Central Michigan University to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe’s Nibokaan Ancestral Cemetery on Tomah Road.

The decision to return the ancestors was made because of the national Native American Graves Protection Repatriation Act, a federal law adopted in 1990.

NAGPRA provides a process for museums and federal agencies to return certain American Indian cultural items to lineal descendants, including human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony.

Atalay, who is on the NAGPRA review committee, said it was wonderful the ancestors were coming home.

The walk was cold, but participation was not affected.

“These grandparents are being returned in a special compassionate way,” said Punkin Shanananaquet, a Hopkins resident.

Shanananaquet said it is important for younger generations to understand the returning process and how it is relevant to their lives.

Her husband, Dave, stepped off from the crowd and performed tribal songs as the crowd passed by.

“I just came here to give them encouragement, that is the reason why I am here,” Dave Shanananaquet said.

Throughout the crowd, babies were pushed in strollers, the elderly walked with the assistance of canes and women linked arms as the procession took place.

Mount Pleasant resident Samantha Gose was one of the people who walked because of her interest and pride in knowing about the people she was bringing back home.

“I am glad that they decided to give them back,” Gose said. “I felt proud to be doing something to help.”


  1. terri terrell says:

    I have been trying to find information about my indian heritage. I am not sure where to start. thank you. terrejam

  2. Gamallen says:

    Native American history has been an interest of mine for a very long time.  I have read several books over the years in an attempt to educate myself on the subject.  When I read “Where White Men Fear To Tread” by Russell Means I learned about Dennis Banks and the American Indian Movement. 

     I came to the Soaring Eagle Casino in September of 2010 and while in the gift shop spoke to a man who informed me of the repatriation.  i was afraid of intruding as I am not of Native American descent but was assured I would be welcome.  I was thrilled that I would be able to be a part of such a wonderful thing.  I then learned that Dennis Banks would be attending the event and I looked forward to participating together with him in this event.  Even though I did not meet Dennis Banks personally,  I did take part in the repatrication and throughout the walk carried 4 different remains. I found myself wishing i knew who they were, what their life was like, what they could teach me if I could have had a conversation with them, and i hoped that they were comfortable with me carrying them to their final resting place as I was very honored to do so. 

     I was so proud and honored to take part in this very sacred and important part of history.   I want to thank you for allowing me to experience this.  I signed my name to the registry at the end of the walk but realized later that i did not leave my contact information. i would very much like to have any follow up information that is available. My e-mail address is

  3. Gail Allen says:

    I realize that I did not provide my correct e-mail address.  It is  Please provide any follow-up information available from the repatriation.  Thanks

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