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Four museums or historical institutions in Minnesota said that they are on track to return or already have repatriated any Native American remains in their collections, and they aren't covering up or changing their current exhibitions.

As of Jan. 12, updated federal regulations to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) require museums to obtain consent from tribes before displaying cultural objects or using them for research. The American Museum of Natural History in New York will close two major halls exhibiting Native American objects, and the Field Museum in Chicago covered some display cases, among others.

In Minnesota, historical societies and museums said they are already complying.

The Goodhue County Historical Society in Red Wing said it is not closing or covering any exhibitions and that all Native American object displays were approved by or developed in conjunction with the Prairie Island Indian Community. The Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul does not have plans to do so either, but would be open to it if a tribe member stepped forward and made a request.

The Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis confirmed that it does not have any displays that would be affected by the NAGPRA updates.

As of Tuesday, the Minneapolis Institute of Art has not covered up or closed any exhibitions, but it is "evaluating the updates to NAGPRA to determine how they affect the museum's holdings of Native American objects and any steps we may need to take to ensure we remain in compliance," Mia spokeswoman Molly Lax said.

The historical societies said that they do not have any Native American remains in their possession, and that ProPublica data cited in its Repatriation Database is inaccurate. The Weisman is in the process of repatriating more than 2,000 objects dug up by the Anthropology Department in the 1920s.

"This conversation is a painful reminder of the continued grief that many Native American people feel about the remains of their ancestors and their cultural patrimony taken from them over the past several hundred years, and the work that still needs to be done by many institutions," Minnesota Historical Society Associate Executive Director Jennifer Jones said.

She said that MNHS has already transferred the remains of five individuals listed in the ProPublica data to the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) for reburial between 1993-1995. ProPublica reported that the Minnesota Historical Society had not yet made the remains of five individuals available for return, but had made the remains of four other individuals available for return.

"MNHS has contacted the national NAGPRA database to get this information updated," Jones said.

In terms of what is placed on exhibition, she added, "MNHS is always open to consultation with tribes if they have concerns or disagreements with our assessment."

According to ProPublica data, the Goodhue County Historical Society has remains of eight individuals not yet made available for return.

But Goodhue County Historical Society Curator of Collections and Exhibits Afton Esson said that data was inaccurate, because in 2015 the society returned seven individual collections of partial bone fragments, working with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.

The biggest museum or historical society on the list is the Weisman Art Museum. According to ProPublica's data, there are 198 remains that have been made available for return. Revised NAGPRA regulations are not affecting the repatriation process.

The University of Minnesota and the Weisman declined to comment further. Tribal advisers working with the Weisman on repatriation have "requested that their privacy be respected while this consultation process for the repatriation is underway," said the statement on the U's website.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art has one remain that it has made available for return, ProPublica reports.

A difficult past

These reports beg the question: Is Minnesota doing better than other states?

"This is a visible issue in Minnesota because we have the 11 federally recognized tribes that are very attentive to repatriation issues," said Brenda Child (Red Lake Ojibwe), professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota.

In contrast, in a state like Ohio, there are no federally recognized tribes.

"If it looks like Minnesota is doing great. Is it because we have an ethic of doing good on Native American issues in Minnesota, or is it that Native American communities and tribal nations are very active here?" she said.

While tribes can put pressure on organizations and state institutions, Minnesota still has a mixed record when it comes to Native issues.

"We have had egregious issues like at the University of Minnesota, and these ironies like [having] the first American Indian Studies Department in the country, which is over 50 years old, and then this horrible legacy from the Department of Anthropology, so it's those things kind of [coexisting] for a long time," she said.

Kate Beane (Flandreau Santee Sioux Dakota), executive director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art, said that these recent updates to NAGPRA are a long time coming.

"As an Indigenous museum professional I'm glad to see these changes taking place, but this moment also highlights that we have a long way to go in the field," Beane said. "Museums must do better moving forward. Working with tribes and communities can no longer be an afterthought."