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Return to the Earth

return to the earth


The Return to the Earth project supports Native Americans in burying unidentifiable ancestral remains (by providing burial boxes and clothes) now scattered across the United States and enables a process of education and reconciliation between Native and Non-Native peoples.

A Vision of Dignity
Native Americans want to honor the memory of their ancestors and to acknowledge a past scarred by exile and loss. While acknowledging a history of silence and even collusion in historic wrongs, religious communities bring unique assets to the process of restorative justice and reconciliation.

RTE Logo

About the RTE Logo
The running buffalo in the Return to the Earth logo, designed by Cheyenne artist Gordon Yellowman, depicts the spirit and strength of returning to the earth at a fast pace with powerful motion. The circles behind the buffalo represent contemporary earth as native people today make the effort of returning human remains and burial objects.




A Legacy of Pain
In 1864, Cheyenne peace chiefs passed through Denver heading for a sanctuary which turned into a place of death. Led by an ordained minister, Colonel John Chivington, the Sand Creek massacre was one of hundreds of such incidents. People of faith stood silent then, but now we have an opportunity to help reconcile.

The U.S. government ordered military troops on the frontier to collect the skulls and other remains of Native Americans and ship them to Washington, D.C., for scientific study. Native American remains, like those at Sand Creek, were among thousands that ended up in displays as well as on dusty shelves and in forgotten drawers in depositories, museums, and universities across the country.

An Act of Hope
In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, requiring the return of human remains and sacred objects to Native American tribes and nations from which they came.

Yet today over 110,000 remains cannot be identified as belonging to a particular tribe. These once beloved mothers, fathers, friends, and children are awaiting to be returned, honored, and buried with dignity.


Web Links

NAGPRA website- Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is a Unite States federal law passed in 1990. NAGPRA provides a process for museums and Federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items -- human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony -- to lineal descendants, and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.

NAGPRA Wikipedia Article - that references The Return to the Earth project. Articles useful to some readers looking for a brief overview of NAGPRA.

NCAI website- National Council of American Indians was founded in 1944 in response to termination and assimilation policies that the United States forced upon the tribal governments in contradiction of their treaty rights and status as sovereigns. NCAI stressed the need for unity and cooperation among tribal governments for the protection of their treaty and sovereign rights. Since 1944, the National Congress of American Indians has been working to inform the public and Congress on the governmental rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Mennonite Central Committee- international relief, development, and peace agency of the North American Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches. The MCC Restorative Justice Program has a staff member that serves on the RTE board and supports this project.


Support Return to the Earth

Become a RTE Volunteer!
  • Organize a local study group and use the RTE study guide
  • Build burial boxes to be used by tribes as requested

Your contribution to RTE move the project toward fruition and fund:
  • $25- cedar funerary box
  • $50- video and study guides set
  • $75- bolt of Native muslin wrap

Please make check or money order payable to "MCC" clearly earmarked for the "Return to the Earth" project.
Send your contribution to:

Mennonite Central Committee
Attn: Return to the Earth
21 South 12th Street
PO Box 500
Akron, PA 17501-0500