Eighty-three years ago William Duncan Strong, an anthropologist from Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History stole 22 Inuit remains from Labrador.
The museum had tried to cover up the event and keep the secret under wraps. During the winter of 1927- 1928 Strong was at the Rawson-McMillan Subarctic Expedition collecting valuable data on the Naskapi Indians of Labrador according to his bio page at Columbia.edu
. The page doesn't include information that he removed the remains without permission.
The story came out in 2008 when a researcher sent a note about gossip he heard around the campfire to Labrador’s Torngâsok Cultural Centre. That message from the Smithsonian Institution researcher revealed that there could be the bones of their ancestors at the Field Museum.
For two years a team from Labrador worked to retrieve those remains.
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“The story is quite unbelievable. In a way, it could turn into a happy story, even though what was done was immoral, disrespectful and disgraceful. Now we want to do what is right,” said Johannes Lampe, Minister of Culture in the Nunatsiavut Inuit government of northern Labrador.
In the cold winter months that Strong was in Labrador he was researching the community of Zoar. The area was founded in the mid-1800's by Moravian missionaires. In 1894 only a graveyard remained.
Strong got in trouble with the local authorities when he started digging up graves. He was ordered to return the site to it's original condition. Strong filled the graves but didn't rebury the bones of 22 Inuits. He then went back to his home base, Field Museum. The museum was unaware that the find was from grave robbing.
In May Nunatsiavut Culture Minister Johannes Lampe traveled to Chicago to prepare the remains for their return home.
Field Museum of Natural History's president John McCarter Jr. said that with the return and reburial that the museum can close a sad chapter of their history.
More than 75 people
attended the reburial ceremony today in northern Labrador of the remains of 22 remains from the Zoar community.
Helen Robbins, Chicago Field Museum, told CBC
"We know that [William Duncan Strong] knew it was wrong, and the institution knew it was wrong because they tried to cover it up and kept it secret...so they had a real awareness the community was unhappy," said Robins.