Return to the Earth

The Project

The Return to the Earth Project supports Native Americans in burying unidentifiable ancestral remains now scattered across the United States and enables a process of education and reconciliation between Native and Non-Native people.  The project has made significant progress, including erecting a building on the pilot burial site, hosting an opening ceremony, and producing a study guide to start the healing process.


In 1864, Cheyenne Peace Chiefs passed through Denver heading for a peaceful sanctuary in Colorado when they were massacred at Sand Creek.  This massacre was one of hundreds of such incidents. Skulls and other remains of Native Americans were collected by military troops by order from the U.S. government and shipped to Washington, D.C. for scientific study.  Remains – like those of the Cheyenne Peace Chiefs of the Sand Creek, Colorado massacre – 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.

In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.  All federally-funded institutions are now required to return remains as well as sacred objects to the Native American tribes and nations from which they came.  Many remains have been returned, mourned, and buried with dignity.  However, the process has been slow and under funded.

More than 100,000 remains cannot be identified as belonging to a federally recognized tribe.  For most such remains only point of origin is known.  These once-beloved mothers, fathers, friends, and children are still waiting to be returned, honored, and buried with dignity.


The Return to the Earth Project is a restorative justice effort of Native Americans and religious communities: Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM), Council of Native American Ministries (CoNAM), Religions for Peace – USA (RFP-USA), Mennonite Central Committee U.S. , MCC Central States, Mennonite Mission Network of MCUSA. It is also in cooperation with the National Congress of the American Indians and in coordination with the provisions of the NAGPRA office of the National Park Service.