North Dakota

University Staffers Were Searching for Missing Native American Artifacts. They Found Dozens of Dead Bodies.

What started as a search for artifacts once on display at the University of North Dakota library resulted in the discovery of remains in cardboard boxes — and sparked a reckoning.

statue dedicated to Sioux leader Sitting Bull seen in front of the Ralph Engelstad Arena at the University of North Dakota
AP Photo/Dave Kolpack

Last winter, University of North Dakota English professor Crystal Alberts started searching for a missing pipe, a headdress and moccasins once on display at the school’s library, heading deep into the recesses of the nearly 140-year-old campus. 

She and others searched in back rooms and storage closets, opening unmarked cardboard boxes. Inside one of them, Alberts spotted the pipe.

But they also found samples of human remains, more than 70 of them, many of them in boxes with no identifying information. Now comes the job of repatriating the remains to tribes and investigating how the university failed to treat them with dignity.

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