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State Police Honors Native American Heritage with Smudging Ceremony to Return Tribal Ancestors

In July 2019 and April 2009, human remains were discovered on private property near Jackson and from the Lake Erie shoreline near Monroe. In both instances, police recovered the physical remains. Analysis confirmed that the remains represented two, adult male individuals of prehistoric Native American ancestry. 

"When we receive that information, and know there's no crime involved, we start a different process," said Hanna Friedlander, Human Remains Analyst with the Michigan State Police (MSP). "It's not the same as your typical missing person investigation. This becomes a journey to return the ancestor back to their family, back to their Tribe."  

One of the steps in that journey is a smudging ceremony that honors the spiritual beliefs of the Great Lakes Anishinabek and other Indigenous Tribes. The ceremony utilizes the sacred medicines of cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco and focuses on bundling the ancestors in culturally-appropriate materials as they await repatriation under the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). 

The final step is repatriating the ancestral remains and/or associated funerary objects to the Tribe(s) once the MSP's Notice of Inventory Completion is published in the Federal Register by the National NAGPRA Program Offices (NNO).

A smudging ceremony was held at MSP Headquarters in Dimondale on Sept. 1. 

"We were very pleased to work with Lakota Pochedley of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi-Gun Lake Tribe to honor the ancestors in the control and possession of the MSP," said William Johnson of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and Chairman of the Michigan Anishinaabek Cultural Preservation & Repatriation Alliance (MACPRA). 

MACPRA is composed of the 12 Federally-recognized Indian Tribes and two State Historic Indian Tribes in Michigan. 

"The State Police has offered kind consideration, cooperation and the utmost respect as we have navigated the processes together," said Johnson. "Our work together is leading to new opportunities to serve and protect. We are most thankful for these moments to honor our ancestors, respect Tribal sovereignty and promote Indigenous civil rights."  

Friedlander has personally participated in three smudging ceremonies and says some worksites have held them on their own with Tribal leaders.

"We are making a very intentional effort to embrace the cultures that make us who we are," said Insp. Lisa Rish, MSP's Equity and Inclusion Officer. "Ceremonies like this are an excellent way for the department to better understand and represent the Native American heritage of the communities we serve and also our department members." 

November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to pay tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans. 

"The MSP acknowledges and respects the sovereignty of each of the federally-recognized Indian Tribes in Michigan and this solemn ceremony exemplifies the benefit that can result from open communication, robust collaboration and regular consultation with Tribes on matters of shared concern," said Steve Beatty, MSP's Tribal Liaison. "The department remains committed to identifying opportunities to build and strengthen relationships with the Tribes based on mutual respect, transparency and trust."