The St. Louis County medical examiner is resigning, weeks after protests that he tried to perform autopsies on American Indians in violation of their families’ religious beliefs.
Thomas Uncini told county officials that he would leave the role after 17 years. On Tuesday, commissioners approved an extension of his contract through the end of June to allow for time to find a successor. A county spokesperson didn’t say why he stepped down, and Uncini hasn’t spoken with the media since the controversies erupted last month.
The families of Mushkoob Aubid, a spiritual leader of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and Autumn Martineau, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, obtained court orders to prevent Uncini from performing autopsies after they died in separate car crashes.
In both cases, the deceased and their families practiced Midewiwin, a religion that requires a body to be preserved intact for burial four days after death. The belief system isn’t well known outside of tribal communities, and advocates for the families said the medical examiner’s office didn’t believe them when they tried to explain. After community protests, there has been talk of increasing education of traditional American Indian practices in local governments.