Anthropology alumnus Hanna Friedlander wins Civilian of the Year Award

Hanna Friedlander, who since graduating from the University of Alberta has worked as a Human Remains Analyst with the Intelligence Operations Division of the Michigan State police was honoured on February 8, 2023 as Civilian of the Year.

Marcie Whitecotton-Carroll - 8 February 2023

Hanna Friedlander, who since graduating from the University of Alberta has worked as a Human Remains Analyst with the Intelligence Operations Division of the Michigan State police was honoured on February 8, 2023 as Civilian of the Year.

The award is given to an individual “based on their exemplary work performance, leadership skills, and extensive community involvement both on and off duty”.  Hanna was nominated for the award by her Detective First Lieutenant.

We caught up with Hanna before the ceremony to ask her a few questions!

Tell us about your forensic  Anthropology degree.

I hold a Bachelor of the Arts degree in Anthropology from Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. While studying there, I received a Killam Fulbright Scholarship, which placed me at the University of Alberta for a year abroad. I quickly fell in love with the campus, the anthropology curriculum at the UofA, and the city of Edmonton. I worked closely with former Professor Pamela Mayne-Correia. When I decided to go for my master’s degree, I applied to the UofA, and was accepted under Pam as her student. I studied physical anthropology under her, focusing on forensic anthropology and specializing in cremation and trauma associated with human remains. I graduated in July of 2018 with my Master of the Arts in Anthropology from the UofA, having partnered with both the Department of Anatomy and the Department of Engineering. My thesis studied the differentiation of heat fractures from traumatic fractures in cases of cremation, utilizing irregular bones from donated remains to the Department of Anatomy, as well as the creation of 3D images of the fractures with the help of the Department of Engineering.

What inspired you to enter this field?

When I entered Ithaca College, I had already declared my major in anthropology. After taking some introductory courses, I learned about JPAC – the Joint POW/MIA (Prisoners of War/Missing in Action) Accounting Command (now the DPAA – Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency) and quickly became captivated by the work being done to search, locate, and recover remains from WWII, the Vietnam, and Korean Wars. I began focusing on physical anthropology and subsequently forensic anthropology. When I went to obtain my master’s degree, Pam invited me on a few search and recovery missions with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as she is a forensic anthropological consultant for them, to which I happily obliged. She also created an independent studies course that allowed me to be a forensic anthropological consultant at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Edmonton, developing biological profiles from cold case unidentified remains. I quickly fell in love with assisting law enforcement on both modern forensic cases and cold case work with unidentified human remains. It’s just incredibly rewarding being able to assist with and aid the decedent’s themselves, but also the families of missing persons who have been waiting for answers for extended periods of time.

Tell us about your current job with the Michigan State Police and how you use your forensic anthropology degree.

My current position is a culmination of the skills I have gained and honed over the past several years and my time at Ithaca and the UofA. I routinely work to discern if located remains are human or not in nature, as well as partner closely with our State Police Canine Unit on the search, location, and recovery of missing persons and unidentified human remains. This ranges from cold case searches to looking for recent victims of homicide or suspected suicide and/or accidental deaths. This includes fatal fire recoveries as well, structural, vehicular, and burn pits. I help coordinate and execute exhumations for DNA collection of unidentified remains cases, as well as DNA collection of family reference samples for missing persons cases. When I am not doing field work, I coordinate the collection of biometric data for unidentified remains profiles or attempt to locate additional information on them to aid in the investigations and identity of these individuals. I manage casework related to investigative or forensic genetic genealogy and coordinate families of interest and tentative IDs with the respectful law enforcement agency and officer in charge for the best possible case outcome. This includes aiding in closing out cases once an ID has been made. My work includes routine comparisons between missing persona and unidentified remains for possible identification purposes. Upon request, I assist Medical Examiner consultant forensic anthropologists on mortuary work for macerating remains for skeletal assessment. I work closely with the Native American tribes of Michigan for Native American remains and associated funerary artifacts repatriations under NAGPRA (the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act). Being in the Michigan Intelligence Operations Center, I do aid casework out of state as well, upon request. Likewise, I do trainings and lectures on forensic anthropology (broadly and more focused depending on the group) for law enforcement across Michigan, including the Michigan State Police recruit schools, basic investigator schools, fire trainings, excavation school for our Crime Scene Response Team personnel, and more. When I have time, I keep up to date on anthropological publications, and work on a few myself here and there

I would like to add that in addition to the work I do for the Michigan State Police, I have recently been contracted by Project Recover to help with their mission of searching, locating, and recovering MIAs. My degree and experience with the Michigan State Police was instrumental in helping me get to where I am today.

Hanna added this: 

I just wanted to extend an additional thank you to Pam Mayne-Correia for training me and supporting me throughout the years, as well as the Michigan State Police who have allowed me to grow and expand this position to encompass all that I do. I look forward to continued work with all my law enforcement, medical examiner, and DNA partners, as well as Project Recover personnel. I am honored to be able to help the families of missing person and unidentified remains; they may be “lost” or still waiting on an identification, but they certainly are not forgotten.

Congratulations Hanna!  Thank you for all you do and for being one of our many Anthropology alumni who do such meaningful and important work.