September 29th, 2010
The press reports that “Amid the broken treaties, confiscated lands and other injustices that Native Americans have endured at the hands of white people, few are as personal as the removal of their buried ancestors.
For a culture that assigns special meaning to burial rites, it’s been painful, Native Americans say, knowing that the remains of tens of thousands of their ancestors have been unearthed, carted off and kept in various federal agencies, museums and other institutions – and not being able to do much about it.
“Symbolically, there’s not much worse than having your relatives packed up and stored away as if they’re no longer a human being, as if that person never existed,” said D. Bambi Kraus, president of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. “These people had names. They were part of complex cultures and societies that existed thousands of years before and have been somehow objectified into just a number on a shelf.”
Kraus and others hope that recent developments will help speed up repatriation of human bones and the sacred funerary objects, such as tools, pottery shards and clothing, to the tribes that buried them. The remains of more than 160,000 Native Americans are kept at federal agencies and museums that receive public funding, according to the National Park Service. . . .
More than 120,000 remains await disposition because they haven’t been linked to a particular tribe. New federal rules that took effect this spring – over objections by some anthropologists and tribal leaders – are supposed to streamline what has been a protracted process of identifying remains and returning them to their rightful tribes. And last month, the Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, issued a report detailing how a number of federal agencies had yet to fully comply with the repatriation law. . . .”