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Concordia Colleage to return relics to tribal land

MOORHEAD - After returning a first set of bones a year ago, Concordia College is preparing to return more relics to an Indian reservation south of Bismarck.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe say Concordia acted wrongly by taking fossils from tribal land in 2003. But officials from the college say they did nothing wrong.

"They made an allegation that we disagreed with," said Mark Krejci, Concordia's vice president for academic affairs.

Adrienne Swallow, a representative of the tribe, said they're anxiously waiting for the return of the fossils this spring to the reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.

Krejci, who prefers to call the artifacts "bone fragments," agreed the return comes at a good time for the tribe.

"In the end, the tribe wanted the bones back," Krejci said. "The initial set of bones was given back in January as a sign of good faith." The rest will be returned by this spring.

Krejci says a meticulous process is involved in preparing the bone fragments for travel, but that the college is working diligently to get them ready. The bones are cased in plaster and carefully preserved before the trek back to their land.

Swallow said some of the fossils were taken in June 2003 when Concordia biology professor Ron Nellermoe and his students excavated on private land overlooking the Grand River in South Dakota.

The digging eventually led to tribal lands, where Nellermoe and his students recovered the dinosaur fossils, which he identified as coming from an edmontosaurus.

Nellermoe claims he had tribal permission to remove the fossils from tribal lands, but there is no documentation to that effect, Swallow said.

Nellermoe declined to comment for this story.

"When they wanted bones returned, we quickly responded," Krejci said, adding that the first bunch of bones was returned in January 2008.

Because of the 2003 incident, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was among the first Indian tribes to adopt a paleontology code. Swallow said it became imperative to have a process to recover fossils taken from the reservation.

The tribe's Paleontology Committee's long-term goal is to build a museum on tribal land to house and display the tribe's fossils, as well as cultural and historical items, Swallow said.

"We're very pleased to have them back," Swallow said of the fossils. "Eventually, we want to build a museum so we all can view them."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kim Winnegge at (701) 241-5524