Message #95
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 

Date: Tue, 10 Mar 1998
Subject: One-Woman Campaign Sparked Nat'l Repatriation Cause

[ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] :

Return of Indian remains bogs down 03/09/98)
Eight years after Congress ordered the "repatriation" of uncounted thousands of Native American remains, tribes are still at war for the bones and burial relics of their ancestors. Some disputes set tribe against tribe, with competing claims for artifacts and skeletons that have gathered dust in museum vaults for more than a century. Many others pit Indians against non-Indians over bureaucratic delays and even refusals to hand over bones and grave objects claimed as sacred by the tribes. But all hinge on the difficulty of determining tribal links to centuries-old items whose exact origins may be lost in the mists of time. In short: Who is related to whom? From a 1,400-year-old grave in the Grand Canyon to shellheap tombs on the Maine coast, thousands of skeletal remains, burial objects, sacred articles and "cultural patrimony" items of historical importance to tribes already have been returned under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The graves law, passed in 1990, requires federally funded institutions, from the vast Smithsonian to small-town museums, to inventory and offer items for return to tribes who can prove "cultural affiliation." So far, the remains of more than 110,000 individuals and hundreds of thousands of artifacts have been counted. But only some of these bones of contention have been given back. Indian activists also claim the total number of remains is far higher, since the law doesn't cover private collectors or institutions. The variety of completed or pending returns is extraordinary: A single human tooth from a Miccosukee site in Everglades National Park. The scalp of a Cheyenne victim of 1864's notorious Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. The bones of 1,582 Hawaiian natives dug up on a Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Bay. Paiute ceremonial beads and stones found on the government's Nevada Test Site atom-bomb range. Exactly 31,651 Itskari, Loup and Pawnee burial objects from 14 Nebraska archaeological digs. But the lineage is less clear for most of the artifacts and remains. "When you're talking about materials that may be 2,000 to 10,000 years old, you're fishing in the dark," says Stephanie Damadio, a curator for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Many were excavated and collected scientifically. But many more were simply dug up, stolen, picked up, displayed or sold repeatedly as curios or art, often erasing the historical trail. For America's indigenous peoples, it is an insulting legacy of sacred tribal objects treated as lucrative collectibles and the bones of Indian forebears displayed as tourist-trap curiosities. "It's grave robbery, pure and simple," says Yankton Sioux grandmother Maria Pearson, whose one-woman campaign over the 1971 desecration of an Indian grave in Iowa sparked the national repatriation cause. "Why should anybody own anybody else's bones, especially when they were taken in the fashion they were?" adds Pearson, 66, who is now the governor's adviser for Indian affairs in Iowa, the first state to pass a law protecting Indian burials. "There are 769 entities, tribes, Alaskan villages and corporations, and native Hawaiian groups that have standing," says Tim McKeown, the federal project manager for repatriation. "And there's about 769 different approaches to it." The repatriation act requires that custodians of bones and artifacts consider more than just "hard" science in determining which tribe gets ownership. They also must weigh cultural evidence: folk traditions, tribal beliefs and oral history. Still, much of the material could end up classified as "unaffiliated," stuck in legal limbo until the secretary of Interior drafts rules on what to do with remains and objects for which specific ownership simply can't be established. Solutions could range from leaving bones and grave artifacts in museums to reburying them en masse in regional graves. Repatriation "is taking much longer than any of us thought it would," says Rick West, a Southern Cheyenne who heads the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, which has returned about half of the 470 sets of remains in its collection. (Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, whose 18,000 sets of bones constitute the largest such collection, has returned about 3,500 sets so far.) Mandan tribal activist Pemina Yellow Bird, who calls the Smithsonian "the biggest Indian cemetery on the planet," contends that the remains of more than half a million Indians may have been dug up over the years. She notes that in the 1860s, the surgeon general ordered Army field officers in the West to send back Indian skeletons so he could study whether natives were inferior to whites. "The drive was for collection, for stockpiling - grab, grab, grab," says Yellow Bird, who wants any and all remains returned for reburial. "According to the white man, they are 'unaffiliated.' But to us, they're our relatives." Yellow Bird even suggests some delays may be the work of stubborn scientists unwilling to part with their trove of study "specimens." But officials trying to comply claim the repatriation law actually has accelerated the study of bones long kept in storage because scientists realize they won't be available much longer. "This statute has single-handedly sparked more analysis of human remains and funerary objects in the last eight years than was done in the last 100," McKeown says. Native Hawaiians have been so insistent in seeking repatriation so that all known remains and burial objects once held on the mainland are now back in the islands. Also aggressive are tribes on the Northern Plains, who helped spearhead passage of the graves act. They and others now are fighting against proposals to loosen the law in the wake of the controversial battle over the bones of "Kennewick Man." In that high-profile standoff, a 9,300-year-old skeleton from Kennewick, Wash., lies locked in a government vault as eight anthropologists sue for access to study its apparent "white" physical features. (An anthropologist's reconstruction looks like actor Patrick Stewart, though skeptics suggest it also resembles the Iroquois, an East Coast tribe.) Seven Northwest Indian tribes want the bones reburied without further study, which they scorn as "a violation of our most deeply held religious beliefs," says Cayuse religious leader Armand Minthorn. They claim the "Ancient One" as their ancestor because their oral histories in the region go back 10,000 years. The Army Corps of Engineers, which took custody in 1996 after the bones were found in the muddy bank of the Columbia River, is caught in the middle. When the corps sought to give the remains to the tribes, a federal magistrate last year halted the transfer for a closer look. In January, a top government archaeologist advised the corps that scientific study is allowable to determine if the skeleton is, in fact, American Indian. "K-Man" isn't alone in controversy. Other recent cases: * A southeastern Utah couple escaped felony charges last month for digging up bones of prehistoric Anasazi Indians while hunting for artifacts on state land, where the federal graves law doesn't apply. To charge the pair, prosecutors had invoked Utah's century-old statute against grave robbing. But in a surprise ruling that outraged tribes the state appeals court ruled Feb. 20 the law doesn't apply because prosecutors can't prove the ancient remains were intentionally buried there in the first place. * The city of Providence, R.I., owns a carved wooden spear rest that Hawaiians consider a spirit-filled religious object. Brought home in 1810 by a seafaring Rhode Islander, the figure once cradled weapons on the gunwale of a native canoe. A federal review board for such disputes recommended that the figure be returned. But Providence, which wanted to sell it for $250,000 or more, claimed it was merely a historical collectible and sued. After negotiations last month, the two sides are close to settling their dispute but won't give details. * The Oneida Indians split into New York and Wisconsin bands in the 1830s. Now, both claim an Oneida belt of shell beads, or wampum, to be returned by Chicago's Field Museum. That dispute also is under negotiation. * The USA's second-largest tribe, the 225,000-member Navajo Nation, has declared ownership of all "cultural resources" on its 27,000-square-mile reservation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. While the repatriation act allows that, the Navajos' blanket claim riles neighboring Hopi, Zuni and other Pueblo peoples. They argue that they, not the nomadic Navajos, are the true descendants of the early and mysterious Anasazi cliff-dwellers who inhabited those lands centuries ago. While many tribes aggressively demand the bones of their ancestors, some shy away. In southeastern Alaska, the Tlingit tribe's ancestors traditionally cremated the bodies of all but their shamans, or medicine men. Now, McKeown says, museums that hold remains from Tlingit territory find the tribe is reluctant to take them back "because of the power that those shamans had." Many Southwest tribes are reluctant even to talk about the dead, let alone deal with their bones. They believe once the dead are buried, there's no process for reburial. "Many of these cultures believe you can get spiritually ill from (contact with) dead bodies," says Damadio of the Bureau of Land Management. In a quiet ceremony in Grundy County, Ill., last month, tribal elders removed a fragment of jaw, a braid of hair and a piece of skull from public view in the county courthouse. Under glass for 70 years, the remains of a 5-year-old Indian child were the last known specimens on display in the state, says repatriation activist Joseph Standing Bear. "We pray for the three R's - respect, repatriation and reburial," says Standing Bear, an Ojibwe who is helping organize a national observance on May 2 for the speedier return of ancestral bones. "Native people have waited a long time. The time for a good conclusion is at hand." By Patrick O'Driscoll, USA TODAY Contributing: Kristen Hartzell in Durango, Colo. See Also: Wednesday, April 15, 1998 In 1976, Maria Pearson, a member of the Yankton Sioux people, was living in a small town in southwestern Iowa, and married to a Iowa Department of Transportation engineer. One day he came home from work to tell her some disturbing news. He told her that that day, the Department of Transportation had uncovered a cemetery which contained both white and Indian burials. The white individuals were reinterred; the remains of the single Native American individual were boxed up and taken to the Office of the State Archaeologist. Mrs. Pearson went to then-Governor Robert Ray to protest the differential treatment of the dead, and a struggle over who had control of American Indian remains in the state of Iowa ensued. After a six-year battle, the Iowa Reburial Law was enacted, the first of its kind in the country. Because of the direct influence of Mrs. Pearson, working together with newly named State Archaeologist Duane Anderson, all burials in Iowa have been protected since 1982.