Saturday, June 17, 2006


Repatriation of Indian Remains Continues

There has been so much done to the graves of American Indians that the returns of their remains is a reason to rejoice. Dams, freeways, pipelines, and other projects have turned the gravesites of thousands upon thousands into...nothing. Anthropologists and archeologists, in the name of science and looted addtional thousands of graves. We have no idea how many boxes of bones remain in storage around the country—around the world, really.

From earth to earth, once freed from study
Culture - Native Americans retrieve and rebury the remains of 143 ancestors dug up long ago
Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Oregonian
DAYTON, Wash. -- Wilson Wewa raised his arms above a mass grave Friday where the remains of 143 Native Americans were ceremonially laid to rest on a windswept bluff above the Snake River.

"Each and every one of us are related somehow to these people," said Wewa, an elder of the Palouse and Northern Paiute tribes who lives on the Warm Springs Reservation.

The bodies, now concealed under reed mats, had been unearthed in the early 1960s to make way for a reservoir rising behind the newly constructed Ice Harbor Dam. Since then, they've been stored in the anthropology departments of the University of Idaho at Moscow and Washington State University at Pullman.

They were returned to the tribes for reburial under the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which sets guidelines for the return of cultural artifacts by museums, federal agencies and others.

"Now they are home," Wewa told about 100 people gathered by the shallow pit. "They are not sitting in a room in a box on a shelf. Their bones can go back to the ground like it was in the creation times. Our people have to go back to the ground."

The ceremony near Lyons Ferry State Park began in the morning and included speeches in English and the Sahaptin language of the Northwest tribes, interspersed with singing.

None of the bodies could be individually identified. Tribal members believe some predate the Lewis and Clark expedition and possibly the voyages of Christopher Columbus, said Harvey Moses Jr., chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation's governing Business Council.

Dealing "as best we can"

Just how many Northwest tribes are represented is impossible to know because the original burial site was a gathering spot for native people from a wide region who passed by over the centuries, he said.

"There was no embalming way back then," Moses said. "If you died during travel, you would be buried where you died."

The belief system of the Northwest tribes holds that bodies shouldn't be exhumed after burial, he said.

"They never should have been moved, period," Moses said. "It is upsetting, but a part of the American way of life is to do this, so we are dealing with it as best we can."

Alvin Shuster, a Yakama tribal elder, said he sometimes wonders "what the other side would do if we went to their cemeteries and dug their people up. How would they like it?"

A spirit of conciliation seemed to override any acrimony at the ceremony.

"Our religion forbids making judgments," Shuster said. "We have to accept things as they come. They took a lot of things away from us."

"No hard feelings to the people who have taken them out of the country. No hard feelings," said Charles Axtell, a Nez Perce elder living in Lapwai, Idaho.

A sad, telling frequency

The reburial was organized by the Confederated Colville tribes and was the largest of its kind outside the boundaries of the 1.4 million-acre Colville reservation, where 5,000 tribal members live. The Colville confederation encompasses 12 tribes, and many are related to tribal people elsewhere around the Northwest.

Reburials have become increasingly common since passage of the repatriation act in 1990. The law was restructured last year to ensure that museums comply.

In April, Arizona's Hopi Tribe reburied 1,560 sets of human remains, among them 455 nearly complete skeletons, all believed to be 700 to 1,550 years old. Most had been unearthed during archaeological excavations between the 1880s and 1960s at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

Stone tablets near Friday's reburial site marked the undated burial place of 135 people recovered from a desecrated native cemetery at the mouth of the nearby Tucannon River.

Beside it was another marker signifying the last resting place of an uncounted number of Palouse moved there in 1962 from where they were exhumed at the confluence of the Snake and Palouse rivers.

"It is just the way the settlers and the government work," Moses said. "It is difficult to put a figure on how many times this has happened, how many times it will happen."

The problem now will be to keep artifact hunters away from the site, Moses said, though the remains appeared to consist mostly of deteriorated bones.

To help ensure security, the remains were partially buried, then the grave was filled with chain-link fencing and rocks before being fully covered.

Richard Cockle: 541-963-8890;

©2006 The Oregonian
Repatriation options explored
© Indian Country Today May 29, 2006. All Rights Reserved
Posted: May 29, 2006
by: Jim Largo / Indian Country Today
COLUMBIA, S.C. - There are at least three options to repatriating American Indian remains now stored in boxes in museums and federal agencies, said the manager of a National Park Service program.

Retired federal judge and law professor Sherry Hutt told an audience in training at the University of South Carolina that federal agencies have ''a potential of 200,000 Native American humans remains'' to be claimed for repatriation.

Some have been identified, she said, but the rest are ''culturally unidentifiable.'' She asked the audience, ''Who are these people?'' They are the remains of indigenous peoples taken from burials even before 1990 when the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became law.

She explained that

NAGPRA regulations provide ways for these remains to be repatriated.

Hutt said NAGPRA is sometimes misinterpreted as a law only for federally recognized tribes to claim and handle the remains for reburial.

Currently, she said, a state-recognized tribe could ask a federal tribe for help. The federally recognized tribe can claim the remains and return them to the tribe.

Another way is for a state tribe to go to NAGPRA's review committee and ask it to make recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior Department concerning the repatriation of their ancestors' remains.

''You say the state of South Carolina has these individuals. We are a state-recognized tribe. We agree [with the state] that this is our aboriginal territory, and we are the descendants of these people. We have a shared identity. But because we are not federally recognized, we don't have otherwise a chance under the law. Therefore these individuals are falsely identified under the law merely by status, not by fact. This is how you work it through NAGPRA,'' she said.

Hutt said once Interior agrees with NAGPRA's recommendations, it will notify the tribe. Then NAGPRA will publish the tribe's intentions. If no one else comes forth to claim the remains within 30 days, then the tribe can go ahead with their plans, she said.

The third way is to take a claim to court. ''You say we are a people that the court recognizes. These are our people here in your boxes, and we are making a claim as their descendants,'' Hutt said. Going through the courts can be difficult but can be done, Hutt agreed.

The Waccamaw Tribe, which lives near Myrtle Beach, S.C., had some 60 sets of ancestral bones taken from the area and wants them back, but since they are not a federal tribe, they have difficulties in getting them from the state.

Hutt told Chief Harold Hatcher, the Waccamaw leader, ''Door No. 2 is your best option.'' She said new NAGPRA regulations are being written, which may provide a way for the Waccamaws to get their ancestors returned without having to go to a federal tribe or to a NAGPRA review committee.

South Carolina has 600 sets of bones in storage. Hutt urged the trainees to document counties with tribal groups, so that the bones known to have been dug up there can be returned to those groups for reburial.

Hutt explained that grave sites are protected. No one is allowed to dig up graves, even if one purchases land with an American Indian burial ground. When you buy land, you don't buy the right to dig, she explained. ''You don't own the human remains.'' Only the descendants can ask for a grave to be disturbed, she said.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?