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Monday, July 12, 2004

The Rocky Mountain News-protecting against vultures

Yesterdays’ edition(7/11/04) of the Rocky Mountain News featured a board editorial entitled “Protect ruins, verify claims.” The subtitle was “Secure Site against threats.” The editorial went on to argue that the recent publicity about the “newly discovered” Range Creek Site in Utah, and the resulting looting of the site, necessitated a defense against “vultures”. The editorial then went on to advise that the site should be secured against looters and American Indian tribes.

The RMN editorial argues that a legal defense needs to be made against any possible claims, by American Indian nations, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. (NAGPRA) Presumably, the RMN editorial board is instructing the the State of Utah in how to oppose the non-existent claims of American Indian Nations, as the Range Creek Site was purchased by the Utah Trust for Public Land.

So what tribes are making these claims? Well, none at this point, as the RMN admits

Such claims in the Utah case are also likely, and could even prove justified given that the site is much more recent. Under the act, (NAGPRA)Indian tribes are entitled to the return of human remains and cultural objects if they can prove they have a cultural or ancestral connection to the items.


Here is what NAGPRA actually does

“Establishes procedures and legal standards for the repatriation of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and cultural patrimony by federal agencies and certain museums, educational and other institutions, and state and local governments. “

And

“Recognizes certain tribal, Native Hawaiians, and individual rights in regard to burial sites located on federal and tribal lands.

The procedure requires that Federal Agencies and Museums(museums is defined as: any institution that receives federal funds which possess or controls Native American cultural items and encompasses state & local governments along with educational institutions) complete an item by item inventory and consult with tribal governments and traditional leaders.

Repatriation of items begins

1. Upon request of a direct descendant of the deceased , or
2. Upon request of an Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization where the tribe or organization has a “cultural affiliation” with the human remains and associated funerary objects."

“To establish Cultural affiliation
*it must be determined that it is likely that the remains are those of a member of a particular tribe or group which existed at the time the deceased lived; and
*based on all the circumstances and evidence, a reasonable connection(shared group identity) must be shown between the present day tribe or organization making the request and the earlier tribe.

Some of the evidence that can be used to determine cultural affiliation includes “geographical, kinship, biological, archealogical, anthropological, linguistic, folkloric, oral traditional, historical or other relevant information or expert opinion.

Utah’s state law repatriates to lineal descendants or the tribe that has the closest cultural affiliation that states a claim. If the tribe with the closest cultural affiliation cannot be ascertained, then the tribe that is recognized as aboriginally occupying the area can make the claim.

The Rocky Mountain News continues
But there has to be proof of some sort; the mere possibility of a connection is not sufficient. Without such proof, claims by contemporary Indian tribes should not interfere with or prevent scientific studies of these almost completely undisturbed ruins and relics.


Anticipating that one link may be established by oral history, the RMN goes on to question the validity of oral history.

Range Creek is believed to have been inhabited most recently by the Fremont culture, from A.D. 900 to 1250. That's a long time for oral history to be reliable - 30 to 40 or even 50 generations. We know a lot about 11th-century England because William the Conqueror ordered it all to be written down in the Domesday Book. If the only knowledge we had of his times were what was handed down in families, it would be scant indeed.


In an attempt to cast doubt on the legitimacy of oral history and collective tribal knowledge, the RMN unwittingly uses an example that bolsters the veracity of any tribal claims to Range Creek, based on oral history.

Using their own example we can conclude this; Had the history of 11th century England been passed down orally, it would survive in scant form, just as any history of Range Creek ancestors may exist in scant form. If that were the case, there could still be no denial that the history of 11th Century England had taken place and that the collective memory of modern English people, though not complete as it might have been in written form, would be grounded in historical fact.

The same reasoning should apply to any American Indian nation that wishes to make a claim for repatriation of items from the Range Creek site.

That may be a mute point at any rate. As posted above, Utah law allows for the aboriginal occupants(Utes? Goshute? Etc.) to make the claim if no other American Indian Nation can establish a “cultural affiliation”.

In the closing paragraph, the RMN dismisses all forms of evidence allowed under NAGPRA by putting forth it’s own criteria.

What would be proof? DNA evidence would be incontrovertible, if it can be found. In 1997, a 9,000-year-old skeleton, buried at Cheddar, England, was matched to one of his remote descendants still living in the same place. The irony is that if a tribe does obtain custody of ancient bones, and reburies them without study, it relinquishes all hope of learning who their descendants really are today.


As stated already, DNA evidence isn’t the only form of proof allowed. This statement is merely the RMN arguing what they believe NAGPRA should say, not what it actually states.

The last sentence is essential in understanding the mentality of those that penned this RMN editorial. What they believe, is that whole nations of American Indians are incapable of understanding who they are or where they’ve come from unless it’s explained to them by "experts". Is this really a suprise for a paper that has yet to apologize for the role they played in the Sand Creek Massacre?

We agree with the RMN that the State of Utah should guard against 2 types of Vultures. The state of Utah should be on guard against looters. It should also be on guard against an out-of-state editorial board, with a history of anti-indian stances bearing uninformed, silly advice.

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