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American Indian's remains returning to Nebraska tribe

WINNEBAGO, Neb. (AP) -- A Winnebago man's remains soon will be turned over to his tribe for burial after being stored for decades at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

The Lincoln Journal Star reported Wednesday that the man was among the American Indians who were forced out of Minnesota and into South Dakota after the Sioux uprising in 1862.

A memorial ceremony was held Wednesday in Mankato, Minn., to mark the 150th anniversary of the hanging of 38 Dakota Sioux men that marked the end of the uprising. Their deaths were the largest mass execution in U.S. history. (See related story, Page A2.)

The Winnebago man's remains were found by a U.S. Army surgeon about five miles south of Fort Randall along a riverbank in south-central South Dakota. He was one of more than 500 Winnebagos who died of starvation and exposure in South Dakota.

His remains eventually ended up at the Smithsonian, which is following a 1989 federal law in turning over the remains to the tribe.

"It means a lot because we're missing part of our culture there," said consultant David Lee Smith, who helps the Winnebago Tribe retrieve its ancestors' remains and sacred objects from museums and universities. "We believe in ancestral worship, that all the ancestors should be buried to continue their journey to the spirit world."

The Winnebago Tribe has set aside part of its town cemetery to bury ancestors whose remains have been returned. The tribe also buries remains and other sacred objects in an Illinois cemetery that was donated to the tribe.

The Smithsonian Institution's Eric Hollinger said the Army surgeon who found the Winnebago man's remains sent them to the Army Medical Museum in 1868, which passed them along to the Smithsonian in 1898.

"The National Museum of Natural History is happy to have played a role in helping to return the remains of this ancestor to his descendants, the Winnebago Tribe," he said.

Hollinger said each tribe has a difference approach to repatriation. Some tribes hold funeral ceremonies, some display sacred objects in museums, and some bury the objects.

"Repatriation is about making sure the tribes have the right to determine the disposition of their ancestors," Hollinger said.