A slow Alaskan summer sunset slowly graces Horseshoe Bay on the Aleutian Chain's Adak Island at 10:30 p.m. on July 21, 2023. Photo by Caleb Riston/Unsplash

The Wilderness Society is expressing its remorse and working to repatriate human remains taken in 1936 from a cave on Kagamil, an island in the Aleutian Chain, to their proper resting place. 

In a statement released on Oct. 6, Wilderness Society President Jamie William said that the society recognizes the historical harms of the environmental and conservation movements to Indigenous communities and that the legacy of those harms persists today.   

The statement noted that naturalist and wildlife biologist Olaus Murie, who joined the organization’s governing council in 1937 and later served as its president, took human remains from a cave on Kagamil. The remains were later donated by his family to Wyoming’s Teton Science School, which is taking steps to repatriate them to the village of Nikolski under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. 

A story on the Wyoming news site Buckrail.com and a statement from the Teton Science School relates that partial remains of three individuals went missing from the school’s collection in 1973, and were found in a storage closet in 2021 by a graduate student working at the Murie Museum in Kelly, Wyoming. 

The school then hired a consulting firm that specializes in the process of returning Native American remains and objects that are considered sacred or of cultural importance to the appropriate descendants or Tribal Nations.  

Efforts are underway to contact officials in Nikolski on Umnak Island – the nearest community – and make them aware that the remains exist and are subject to repatriation requests. The remains are being stored at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North.  


“As part of our shared responsibility to correct historical harms by the environmental movement, The Wilderness Society remains committed to ensuring both equitable access to public lands and equitable decision-making about public lands while building a conservation movement that both reflects and centers Indigenous communities across the country,” the society said in a statement.  

“Elevating these perspectives helps us eliminate the harmful practices of the past and unites us in building a future in which people and wild nature flourish together,” they said.