Reburial of Delaware Ancestors on East Coast

By Susan Bachor, Delaware Tribe Historic Preservation, Pennsylvania Office

Hudson River

On October 23rd the remains of a minimum of 2 people were returned and laid to rest in a cemetery protected and maintained by the Stockbridge Munsee. These individuals were held in collections for many years, which is typical, as the remains being held privately are not under the jurisdiction of NAGPRA. Luckily, the Delaware Tribe’s ongoing presence in the east prompted the collectors to contact and ultimately work with the Tribe to return these ancestors.

The Kuna Collection was acquired over years by Dr. Samuel Kuna (deceased). Kuna both bought and actively hunted for Native American artifacts. Dr. Kuna’s son, Dr. Robert Kuna, contacted the Tribe regarding repatriation about a year ago after trying to donate the collection to the New Jersey State Museum. The NJ State Museum could not house the collection due to space, next he contacted Dr. Rich Veit of Monmouth University. Dr. Veit was willing to take the collection but refused to accept the human remains. The Historic Preservation Office arranged for the pick-up and re-burial of this individual.

Additional remains were given to the Delaware Tribe about a year ago by Mr. Robert O’Malia. We had helped the O’Malia’s save a portion of their original farm lands. This family had contacted us about a developer who was going to dig up a parcel of land that held not only the remnants of a fortified village but also at least two burial locations. Working with the family we were able to stop the development and restore the O’Malia family farm to its original size. Bob, a second-generation farmer of this land, had a small collection that he gathered while plowing his fields. John Thomas, Neal Cavallo, and I went to re-visit the site after saving the parcel. During our visit Bob O’Malia invited us into his home to look at his collection. One of his carefully packaged boxes held three human molars. Bob willing gave the remains to us for reburial.

The day of the burial, October 23rd, was a windy Fall day. Bonney Hartley, my son, and I met just outside the burial location which is very close to the Hudson River. We gathered the remains and the materials needed for re-burial and proceeded to find a location that would be appropriate. Bonney lovingly prepared the remains while my son and I dug careful to not disturb anyone else. Prayers and offerings were presented to the deceased and the remains were carefully reburied. Bonney noted that during the burial we were being watched by a hawk that later circled the area after the burial was completed. We took this as a good sign. After the burial we all sat, talked, and shared a light meal.

This reinternment was a success not just due to the physical act of returning ancestors to the earth but also because it is proof that an active presence by the Delaware Tribe on the East Coast is affecting change. Individual collectors or the heirs of these collections now have reliable contacts in which they can trust.