The University of North Dakota found more than 250 boxes of Native American remains and artifacts.
CNN  — 

The University of North Dakota is working to repatriate human remains and sacred artifacts taken from Indigenous communities, UND President Andrew Armacost said Wednesday at a news conference.

More than 250 boxes of items were discovered in March, but university officials have not publicized the find until now at the request of tribal leaders.

“The number of ancestors we have here on campus can be measured in the dozens,” Armacost said, saying the boxes included remains and artifacts, such as headdresses, war bonnets and a ceremonial pipe.

“We can now feel a sense of relief and hope because our ancestors will be returned to their rightful place, and that’s home. We’ll make sure of that,” said Laine Lyons, a member of the Chippewa Tribe who works in the university’s college of arts and sciences.

Armacost said their priority is to identify and return the items to the appropriate tribes while the investigation continues into why the remains and artifacts were kept on campus.

“Our initial impression is that some of the ancestors and funeral items were taken from sacred burial mounds,” Armacost said. “These excavations took place over the course of decades.”

Tribal artifacts have been taken frequently for academic research, but that is no excuse for the theft, Nathan Davis of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission said.

“Science can no longer be an excuse for preventing our ancestors from returning home,” Davis said.