The Haudenosaunee Policies on this page are the official word of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy as promulgated by the Grand Council of Chiefs concerning cultural patrimony & repatriation.


From Kanatiyosh. The policies contain statements that are important to insure cultural sensitivity towards the Haudenosaunee. The statements are evidence of why some school projects, museums, private collections, sellers, governments, and etc., are not being culturally sensitive or respectful to the Haudenosaunee.

Haudenosaunee Policy on Human Remains

Haudenosaunee Beliefs

We have been taught that we bury our dead into the ground so that their bodies can become part of the scared Earth. We believe that we come from the Mother Earth and that the human remains that rest within the Earth are an important spiritual connection to the spirit of the Earth. The Earth is enriched by the dead as our flesh becomes part of the soil. 

The souls of the dead have a path of destiny that they must follow. We refer to this as their journey after life. In this way, we feel that the dead are around us and hover over us as
we hold ceremonies or dances. We believe that the dead have power and it is dangerous to neglect the spiritual needs of the dead. 

The protection of the human remains and associated graves, sacred burial sites and related objects from the graves of the Haudenosaunee are the responsibility of each generation of chiefs, clan mothers, and faithkeepers. We believe that the remains, the associated burial objects and the actual soil in which they rest is sacred. There is no acceptable excuses to justify the desecration of this sacred burial.

Violation of Our Spiritual Rights

Removing the remains from their eternal resting place is a great desecration to both the dead and the living. The disturbance, destruction, and theft of the dead is a violation of the religious and spiritual welfare of the Haudenosaunee. 

As long as the human remains are disturbed, there will be spiritual consequences to our people. The desecration of the graves of our ancestors, no matter what the age of the burial, is a violation of our religious freedom. 

Permits issued by the State of New York or any other local government, to allow anyone
to violate the sanctity of the graves of our ancestors can no longer be tolerated. In the past, our ancestors buried many objects along with the body with the belief that in the afterlife,
you will need all of those things that you need in this life. 

All types of objects have been associated with burials, including decorated clothing, glass beads, shell beads, silver combs, tools and weapons, ceramic and metal cooking pots, wampum belts, strings of wampum, and a variety of personal items. The removal of these objects from the grave is a theft from the dead.

Violation of Our Human Rights

The remains of our dead are not "archaeological resources" that are subjects of study. They are human beings who once lived on this land. They had real lives and feelings. They had
spiritual expectations about their final resting places. To look at Native Peoples as objects rather than people is a gross violation of our human rights. 

All graves and burial sites, Native or not, deserve respect. Our dead relatives deserve the basic human right to a dignified burial.   We do not believe in the use of permanent headstones to mark graves of our ancestors and state law makes a difference between cemeteries and unmarked burials. 

Our burial sites deserve to be considered hallowed ground, whether they are marked or not. There has been a double standard in dealing with our people and non-Native remains. Non-Native grave sites are often afforded more protection than Native burials. 

Despite the efforts of state agencies to identify Native grave locations, construction permits are issued nonetheless. Our dead deserve the same right to an eternal resting place as all other races and religions.

Violation of Our Treaty Rights

The unearthing of the remains of our ancestors from their eternal resting place is also a violation of the promises made to the Haudenosaunee under the terms of the Canandaigua
Treaty of 1794. By that treaty, the United States, including the State of New York, promised not to "disturb" the Haudenosaunee in the free use and enjoyment of their lands.

We have been on record protesting the desecration of our graves. The continual destruction of Native graves, the stealing of the Native remains and the looting of burial objects causes us serious mental, emotional, and spiritual harm. 

Our people are continually upset by these events and we have been forced to adjust our spiritual traditions to accommodate outside developments. The desecration of our dead violates the mutual respect promised by the United States as they pledged a firm and permanent friendship between our peoples. 

The treaty also promised to remove the cause of complaint that upsets our peace. We therefore make it clear that the desecration of the graves of our ancestors causes great harm to our people and the United States and State of New York have an obligation to protect the general welfare of our people as promised in the legally binding treaties.

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