The Haudenosaunee Standing Committee on Burials and Burial Regulation has been given the responsibility to arrange the return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of historical or cultural importance from museums and other institutions. Alone among Haudenosaunee communities, the Grand River Council has decided that we will not seek the return of human remains or funerary objects, on the grounds that we have no reburial ceremony. Instead, we have concentrated on the return of wampum records, medicine masks, and ceremonial objects.
Over the past 25 years, we have gathered most of the wampums from museums, and we have secured the return of over 800 medicine masks. The wampum is kept by the Confederacy Council and has been used in both diplomacy and education. The masks are returned to the Societies that use and protect them, and they are being looked after and used in the proper ceremonies. Some masks have been contaminated with arsenic and other heavy metals. We have developed careful ways to remove the poisons without injuring the masks. Negotiations for the return of masks, other sacred objects, and wampum are continuing with several institutions, including the Canadian Museum of History, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
If we are not going to engage in reburial of human remains that have already been disturbed, then we had better take more rigorous responsibility in cases where they are threatened while they are still in the ground. In 1978, the head archaeologist of the Royal Ontario Museum was arrested for digging up Attiwandaron graves in Grimsby. His conviction was the first ever under the Ontario Cemeteries Act, and it led to a number of changes in the Act.
The Red Hill agreements with the City of Hamilton set a new standard for archaeological processes for major developments. The Oneida Nation Council of Chiefs has made a series of agreements in and around London for the protection of cemeteries. Protection of human burials in Ontario is a matter of provincial jurisdiction, and we have pointed out to the provincial government where changes would be useful. In doing so, we have worked with professional archaeologists, who also support these changes to the law.