The Working Group on Human Remains at Dartmouth launched in May 2023 as part of the institution’s response to the discovery last year of Native American ancestral remains on campus. The group is chaired by Senior Vice President and Senior Diversity Officer Shontay Delalue and Sonu Bedi, the Hans ’80 and Kate Morris Director of the Ethics Institute.
“Our mandate is to make sure Dartmouth does better, and to do that we have to have an accurate and clear-eyed picture of existing practices and an ethical framework for how to improve,” says Bedi, who says the group has been taking time to educate itself on the history of the use—and misuse—of human remains in teaching and research collections in the U.S. and Europe. “This context is critical for informing our recommendations.”
Among notable developments highlighted in the quarterly report, an external forensic team has completed the inventory of all known Native ancestral remains on campus. This work was done in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, known as NAGPRA—the legal framework through which federally funded institutions consult with Native American tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations to facilitate the repatriation of human remains and funerary, sacred, and communally owned items.
In the current academic year, Dartmouth will provide revised inventories to the national NAGPRA office and to affected Tribal nations with the goal of repatriating NAGPRA ancestors in the 2024-2025 academic year. Dartmouth will consult with the National NAGPRA Program regarding ancestors who cannot be repatriated to determine the most appropriate site for reburial.
To assist with this work and manage the process of inventorying and repatriating ancestral remains not otherwise covered by NAGPRA, Dartmouth has hired Kerianne Armelli as program manager for osteological repatriation and review. A forensic anthropologist, Armelli previously worked for the Ohio Mortuary Response team and Western Michigan University’s Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine’s medical examiner office and is completing her doctoral studies in anatomy and skeletal biology at Kent State University. She began the role in August.
“Kerianne brings an outstanding depth of knowledge and a profound moral compass to the role,” says Delalue. “Her expertise is helping the institution develop a phased plan for inventorying, documenting, and repatriating the remains for which Dartmouth is responsible and establishing structures that will allow us to move forward according to the highest ethical standards.”
The inventory and identification of remains not covered by NAGPRA will be completed in the current academic year. Concurrently, the working group is developing a framework for the treatment of such remains, with the goal of applying the framework toward repatriation or appropriate stewardship in 2024-2025.