by Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
Our Indian elders teach us all living things are sacred. They teach us that care for our ancestors extends beyond when they live here on Mother Earth. Further, it is our responsibility to exemplify dignity and respect for our ancestors, whether in memory or deed.
Gabrieleño-Togva Indian Burial Site
So when a construction team shows up and finds buried ancestral remains on a construction zone, it would seem it would be humane to handle the remains with dignity and respect. Construction general contractors or construction managers have budgets and timelines to meet.
As a former executive director of an urban American Indian center, I once dealt with a situation that involved a couple putting an addition on to their cottage at a nearby lake south of the city. The contractor unearthed human remains of an individual. He got off of his backhoe and literally kicked the skull down the hill and said:
“It was probably just
some dead Indian!”
As it turned out, as determined by the Michigan State University’s Archaeology department, the remains were those of an Ottawa male from 400 years ago. After convincing the reluctant couple that the tribe should reinter the remains with dignity and respect, they gave in and returned them to tribal officials. They actually had wanted to claim property-owner rights and keep the remains.
Of great concern currently is the mishandling of the unearthing of remains of ancestors of the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians on the site of the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes Museum. The remains were initially discovered last October when the garden section of the property was excavated for construction. On this site, it has been determine that 118 human remains of Gabrieleño-Togva American Indians and other tribes from the 1800s were unearthed.
One major example of mishandling was how the construction workers literally ripped the caskets apart with their equipment with a very low degree of respect for human life.
American Indians worked hard to get the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) passed by the Congress in 1990. It is supposed to safeguard against what is happening now in Los Angeles from happening with American Indian remains.
Once unearthed, which is bound to happen, NAGPRA seeks to handle the remains with dignity and respect.
The LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes project is a Mexican-American culture museum in downtown Los Angeles.
The County of Los Angeles, which has control over this situation is negotiating with various American Indian entities to have a plan in place by December 2011. This is too long to hold the remains in some museum in containers purchased at the local home improvement company. All parties need to sit down and come to a workable plan to restore the desecrated graves as soon as possible.
Why this is a concern for all American Indians. Is if this can happen in Los Angeles, it could happen to almost any of our ancestors’ remains.
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