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Alutiiq Museum to create online database of repatriation efforts

The Alutiiq Museum is closed for renovations until May 2025. (Brian Venua/KMXT)
The Alutiiq Museum is closed for renovations until May 2025. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

While efforts to repatriate Alaska Native remains have been ongoing, keeping track of those remains has been difficult. But now the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak is building a database of repatriation efforts for the archipelago’s communities.

Amanda Lancaster is the Alutiiq museum’s curator of collections. She says the $99,713 grant comes from the National Park Service’s Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act [NAGPRA].

“One of the major problems with NAGPRA is that there is not a central database that shows what has been repatriated (or) what has been claimed,” she said. “Oftentimes tribes will spend time pursuing this repatriation and then it turns out that that set of ancestral remains was returned and buried 20 years ago.”

The new grant now gives the Alutiiq Museum federal funds to create a central database that tracks repatriation progress. The money is going to be split for travel to villages to meet with Tribal representatives and for staff to dedicate their time towards the project.

The museum says it’s called Angitapet – We Are Returning Them project.

Lancaster says the museum will also use funds to contract outside software developers to create the system.

“Part of that money is earmarked for them to work on that database for us to create a login system so that tribes can actually access the database themselves,” she said.

This is just the latest step in bringing Alutiiq and Sugpiaq remains back to the archipelago. NAGPRA was passed in 1990, the Kodiak Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Repatriation Commission was founded in 2007 to set their priorities.

The commission and museum staff have been working to repatriate several human remains since 2007. Lancaster says the commission last met in 2022 after the museum got a similar grant that would fund more research to find additional remains.

“We identified 12 collecting institutions in the U.S. that had the remains of at least 168 Alutiiq ancestors – and those are just the ones we know about,” she said.

The database is expected to be completed in the next two years and will only be accessible to Kodiak’s ten federally-recognized tribes.