The ceremony on Friday will begin with speeches and joiks – a traditional form of Sami singing – before 25 boxes made out of birch bark and containing the remains will be handed over and lowered into the ground at the old church and market place Gammplatsen in Lycksele.
The skulls were originally dug up from the burial place in the 1950s and were taken to the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm for research, after which they ended up in storage for decades.
The repatriation is a collaboration between the Swedish Church, Lycksele Municipality, Västerbotten Museum and the Lycksele Sami Association and follows the Sami community's demands since 2007 that Sweden return any remains of Sami people taken for research.
But much work remains to be done, and it is hoped the ceremony will serve as guidance for future repatriations. Eleven state-owned museums still have Sami remains in their possession – collected through for example excavations, grave robberies or traded in the 19th and 20th centuries and often used, along with non-Sami skulls, to test theories on the differences between races. Uppsala was home to Sweden's infamous state institution for racial biology research until it closed in the 1950s.
The Swedish National Heritage Board is expected to present a report, commissioned by the government, next year outlining what museums should do if they have human remains in their care.