Repatriation Policy

Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto

The Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto has custody of a number of osteological and archaeological collections, many of which it has curated since excavation many decades ago.  It is the express policy of the department to curate these collections to the best of its ability, to treat human remains with great care and respect, and to cooperate fully and appropriately with attempts by individuals or groups with historical, biological or cultural links with these collections to repatriate them, either for reburial or, in the case of sacred objects, for curation or ceremonial use.  It is also the department’s policy to respect the spiritual requirements of Indigenous peoples as well as relevant federal and provincial laws.  The department recognises the significance of cultural objects in representing and teaching cultural history and values and as sources of pride and self-esteem, and agrees that the additional value of these objects in the scientific investigation and public awareness of First Peoples’ cultural history complements but does not displace the values that First Peoples place on them.

Because the issues surrounding repatriation and curation of these remains are complicated, and we have the responsibility to protect them, requests for repatriation must be evaluated carefully and with the participation of First Nations groups.  Evaluation must be based on clearly understood criteria.  The policy that follows is informed by Turning the Page:  Forging New Partnerships Between Museums and First Peoples (The Task Force Report on Museums and First Peoples), issued by the Assembly of First Nations and the Canadian Museums Association in 1991, and is also influenced by the policies of other institutions, such as the Royal Ontario Museum and the Smithsonian Institution.  Reburial in Ontario must also be in compliance with provincial legislation governing internment.

Objectives of the Department of Anthropology Repatriation Policy

The objectives of the following policy are to facilitate the appropriate return of human remains and other culturally sensitive materials in Department of Anthropology collections to appropriate persons or groups, in an appropriate manner.

Collections Subject to the Repatriation Policy

The categories of items in Department of Anthropology collections that are subject to this policy are (a) human remains of individuals whose identity is known; (b) culturally affiliated human remains ; (c) associated funerary objects; (d) other objects; and (e) items in the Department of Anthropology collections that are legally the property of some other individual or institution.

Individuals of Known Identity

The Grant Collection is the only major collection in the Department of Anthropology that appears to contain the skeletal remains of individuals of known identity.  The Department of Anthropology is the legal curator of these remains but it is possible that a relative of one of these individuals could ask for the return of their remains.

Culturally Affiliated Human Remains

These are human remains that have a demonstrable relationship to a modern group (usually First Nations band or tribe) based on geographical, material cultural and biological evidence.

Associated Funerary Objects

These are items that are believed to have been placed intentionally in a grave with one or more culturally affiliated individuals at the time of death or after.  Associated Funerary Objects are those that occur along with the human remains with which they were originally interred.

Other Objects

These are other objects considered by First Nations or other parties to have particular sacred or communal functions.  While the Department of Anthropology does not, to the best of our knowledge, have custody of such objects, should they be identified they would be subject to the same repatriation process.

Objects not Legally Owned by the Department of Anthropology

These are objects that may have been deposited or abandoned in the Department of Anthropology collections temporarily, through oversight, or on loan, either legally or illegally, with or without the Department’s knowledge, that are legally the property of some other individual, institution or group.  For example, some may be collections left by former students or faculty in the department who are now deceased or whose whereabouts are unknown, but that actually belong to a museum or another university.  Others may be items that were donated to the Department, but by persons who were not their legal owners.  We encourage the return of such items to their legal owners, whenever possible.

Eligibility for Repatriation Requests

Every reasonable effort will be made to ensure that remains are returned only to legitimate representatives of groups with the closest documented affiliation with those remains.

  1. Requests for the repatriation of human remains of individuals of known identity may be made by their family members or descendants.
  2. Requests for culturally affiliated human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony are acceptable from recognised First Nations groups, as recommended by the Task Force on Museums and First Peoples.
  3. Requests for the return of materials or collections legally owned by other individuals, groups or institutions can be made by their legal owners. We recognise that concepts of ownership may vary, and so endorse a collaborative approach on a case-by-case basis to determine the most appropriate recipients of repatriated items.

The Repatriation Process: Initial Request

The Department of Anthropology’s policy is to encourage collaborative decision-making in the evaluation of requests for repatriation.  In some cases, and particularly in the case of materials of which the Department is not the legal owner or custodian, the Department itself may initiate the process by contacting the likely owner.

  1. The process is normally initiated when an official representative of a group (typically a First Nations group) makes a written request to the Chair of the Department of Anthropology for an inventory or summary of the collection.
  2. The group or its representative making the request may then make a formal application, in the form of a letter, to the Chair signed by the official representative of the requesting group, for the repatriation of the objects in the inventory.

Repatriation Process: Committee

The Department of Anthropology will make every reasonable effort to comply with the wishes of a First Nations group requesting repatriation of human remains or other eligible items.

  1. The application is forwarded to a repatriation committee consisting of a minimum of two representatives from the Department of Anthropology and a representative of First Nations communities.
  2. The committee will compile evidence concerning the cultural affiliation or origins of the items being requested.
  3. The committee will attempt to determine whether there may be competing claims for the same items.
  4. Based on this evidence, the committee will prepare a report on the cultural affiliation of the items and, will make recommendations regarding repatriation.
  5. The committee’s report is submitted to the Chair of the Department of Anthropology for approval.
  6. Repatriation of materials which have been acquired under licence (after 1974) require the approval of the appropriate provincial government ministry.
  7. Once approved the report will be distributed to the initiator of the repatriation request as well as to relevant First Nations, the Canadian Association of Physical Anthropologists, the Canadian Archaeological Association, the regional administrative officer for the provincial sites registration data base and/or other parties that may have some interest in the items.
  8. Following a recommendation for repatriation to the initiator of the request, negotiations may begin for the timing and circumstances of repatriation, including reburial.
  9. The conditions of return for each request will be the subject of a protocol document or agreement between the requesting individual or group and the Department of Anthropology.
  10. Throughout the repatriation process, the Department of Anthropology will continue to care for the collections, and may conduct inventory for the purpose of curatorial documentation. Additionally, studies for the purpose of scientific inquiry may be conducted, subject to written approval from the relevant First Nations groups.
  11. The initiator of the request may also request a delay in implementation of repatriation, and in such a case the Department of Anthropology will continue to curate the material on the initiator’s behalf until the resumption of repatriation at a later date.

Revised: February 2020