After a decade of work, the remains of six individuals were returned to Dokis First Nation this week.
Chief Gerry Duquette Jr. first heard about the missing remains from his late-grandfather in 2011.
The remains were taken from Dead Island, on Georgian Bay, in 1891. Working with members of Dokis First Nation, staff at the Field Museum in Chicago, where the remains eventually ended up, learned that an anthropologist named Thomas Proctor Hall removed the individuals from their graves in 1891.
Hall brought the remains to Chicago, where they were on display at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. After the exposition, the remains were added to the Field Museum’s collection.
“It’s emotional, because you see some of the trauma that was on the skeletal remains,” Duquette said, while driving home from Chicago.
“It’s finally here and it’s finally coming home. It’s a chapter that we can close. And that’s a promise that we fulfilled to make sure that they return home or return to their rightful resting place.”
Duquette participated in a ceremony on Oct. 26, in which he signed documents, and the museum transferred him his ancestors’ remains.
He said the process to repatriate the remains started four years ago, but the transfer was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and travel restrictions between Canada and the United States.
In that time, he said he and members of Dokis First Nation established a “great relationship” with the Field Museum.
“I’ve attended reburials and it’s hard to describe how powerful that is that these returns happened and that they’ve been done correctly and that those relatives are now at peace,” said Helen Robins, the Field Museum’s repatriation director, who worked with Dokis First Nation to return the remains.
“And I have certainly been told that these kinds of repatriations and righting past wrongs provide healing and strength to communities.”
Duquette said he will consult with other First Nations to determine how best to return the remains to Dead Island.
“We don’t want them to be taken away again,” he said. “We would hate for that to happen, so we want to make sure those remains are taken care of in a right way.”