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Letters to the Editor


The San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians of the San Manuel Reservation, a federally recognized Indian Tribe, announced on January 16, 1997, its plans to develop a 160,000 square foot archaeological collections repository. The San Manuel Tribe stands alone as the first tribe in the United States to develop a facility of this magnitude, and in doing so, will meet the needs of federal agency requirements for curation of federal archaeological collections (36 C.F.R. Part 79), as required by law. We are developing this facility with revenues derived from the gaming casino on the reservation.

While the federal government has the responsibility to maintain archaeological collections made from federal lands, it is estimated the Bureau of Land Management has in excess of 1.5 million artifacts in curation repositories that do not meet federal standards. It is estimated that other federal agencies have an equal amount or greater.

Federal agency responsibility for these archaeological collections, and the crisis surrounding the collections, has emerged in recent times as the result of implementation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA). Under NAGPRA, federal agencies are mandated under law to inventory their respective archaeological collections and provide inventory notifications to federally recognized Indian tribes. Also under NAGPRA, archaeologists have identified that many collections are not in compliance.

A "Crisis in the Making" has emerged under NAGPRA as a result of these conditions. This crisis became readily apparent to the tribe through a "Draft Briefing Statement on the Management of Federally-owned Museum Collections in the California/Nevada Desert," a document originating from the Paleontological and Cultural Resource Action Team (PACRAT), a group composed of primarily federal agency archaeologists and land managers. While the Tribe is involved in this crisis, it has identified a way to meet not only the Tribe's cultural preservation goals, but a way to assist multiple federal agencies in meeting those same goals. Recognizing the significance of developing a large scale regional cultural resource curation facility, tribal chairman Henry Duro has told his people "this facility will provide a foundation for our tribal cultural awareness programs well into the 21st century."

The Tribe's development of this facility will assist the federal government in meeting the needs of multiple federal agencies, as a partner in cultural resource preservation, serving the tribe, the Department of the Interior, and archaeologists alike.

Tribal Chairman Henry Duro requests letters of support from professional archaeologists for the development of this facility. Letters can be addressed to Henry Duro, Tribal Chairman, San Manuel Tribal Administration, 26524 Indian Service Rd., Highland, CA 92346.

Will Jenson
Tribal Archaeologist
San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians

Certainly the longest-running, and probably the most intractable, linguistic dispute in the Americas is that in Canada between the speakers of English and the speakers of French. While both languages are spoken fluently by many educated people, both Francophone and Anglophone, a preference (even an unconscious one) for one language over the other can often cause deep resentments that are positively European in their duration and intensity. In particular, speakers of French tend to feel that their contribution to the broader cultures of Canada and North America is ignored, because they are speakers of a minority language. Few Americans even begin to comprehend the intensity of feeling on both sides of this debate, and few Canadians feel comfortable discussing this issue with foreigners.

It is therefore with great distress that I note that American Antiquity continues to do its modest best to perpetuate the exclusion of Francophone scholars from archaeological work being carried out in the Americas and reported in the SAA's various publications. Specifically, I refer to the Society's practice of demanding that any article submitted to and published in either of its main journals, American Antiquity and Latin American Antiquity, carry abstracts in, and only in, English and Spanish (Section 3.2.2. of the AA Style Guide). The ludicrous result of this rigid policy is seen in AA 1996: 61(1), in which Kelley and Williamson's "The Positioning of Archaeology within Anthropology: A Canadian Historical Perspective" has abstracts in English and Spanish, but not French. I am sure that there are more Francophone than Hispanophone scholars interested in this particular topic, but they would receive no encouragement from the abstracts. French-speaking scholars are treated to a dismissive wave of the hand, while any Spanish-speaking scholar interested in the history of archaeology in Canada is almost certain to read English anyway. By slavishly adhering to its language policy, SAA demotes the eight million or so Francophones in Canada to the same linguistic status as the speakers of Quechua in colonial Peru.

In 1993, I addressed this problem in letters to the then-editors of AA and LAA. I received no reply at all from the editor of AA, and eventually heard from the editor of LAA that if we admitted French, where would it stop? People would want Portuguese (why not? There are nearly as many Portuguese speakers in the Americas as there are speakers of Spanish), and Dutch, and Creole, and who knows what else? Who would pay for all this? Okay, here's the deal: AA publishes perhaps 40 articles and reports a year, which means 40 abstracts to be translated into French if the authors haven't done it already (let's leave LAA out of this for the moment, because it is arguably too specialized for French abstracts). First of all, simply demand abstracts in French just as you do in Spanish. Abstracts are required to be short, which means that it should take no more than 60­90 minutes for a specialist to translate them into French. Virtually all educational establishments have someone, somewhere who can write in French. If the author is unable to, have a professional translator do it. A professional translator working in New York City charges about $50/hour. The bottom line for 40 abstracts at 90 minutes each at $50/hour would be $3,000. When all this is done, and one four-part volume of AA has its full complement of French abstracts, send me the bill, and we will all have the warm feeling that together, we have taken a small step towards righting a long-standing historical wrong.

David Fleming
New York

There has been a considerable response to my letter about NAGPRA ( SAA Bulletin 14(5): 3), and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have contacted me about it. It is some interest to note that the "plaudit-to-brickbat" ration is currently running at better than 16:1.

You should know that SAA Bulletin did not publish verbatim the text I sent them, editing it for both content and style. I have little use for politically correct language; it diminishes the impact, clarity of what I was trying to say. Also, and in addition to some comments about the social impact of the various antiscience and pseudoscience constituencies on the democratic process, which got edited out, I originally included a capsule definition of materialism as an endnote. The endnote pointed out that materialist biases underlie all of western science, and that archaeology is no different than any other "science-like" endeavor in regard to its world view. It is unfortunately the case that there are some archaeologists who do not know what materialism is, nor that it underlies, e.g., Darwinian evolutionary theory.

If you would like a copy of the original text, let me know and I will be happy to supply it.

A. Clark
Arizona State University

The jeremiads that slowly echoed down the corridors of archaeology for the past year or so have finally reached a crescendo pitch of hysteria with G. A. Clark's letter to the editor [SAA Bulletin 14(5):3], which seemed to epitomize both a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and what might sadly be the naked truth about some archaeologists. The former can be remedied with a little education, but the latter is beyond the cure of scientific discourse and debate, since bigotry, prejudice, and fear can only be exorcised by a priest, shaman, or an act of God (and a healthy dose of critical self-examination).

Clark begins his discourse with the words "All origin myths are equally absurd, but some are more politically correct than others" (italics his). I suppose Clark in his search for "science-like" views of reality might consider that the story of the origin of our own species found in the undisturbed sediments of the lower paleolithic is probably just as absurd (to some) as the world of Chaos and the Olympian gods of the ancient Greeks, but just as politically correct to most practicing archaeologists. Science has never taught us that we had to have a monopoly on the truth, but it did teach us how to evaluate ideas once they have been advanced. Clark sees a demon-haunted world of "mysticism, religious fundamentalism, creationism, and belief in the paranormal" attacking the cerebral and rational "epistemological biases of the scientific worldview [sic]." In his self-proclaimed Chicken Little role decrying the abuses science has sustained from wanton attacks from the denizens of the demon-haunted world of nonscience, Clark has lumped Native Americans, who are only concerned with the protection of their ancestral burials, with religious fanatics who would want their idiosyncratic world views taught on equal footing with the theory of evolution in the science classroom. I know of no Native American group that wants this to happen. Furthermore, Clark sees all of this contributing to "a decline in the perceived credibility of rational thought as a method of inquiry about the world and the place of humans in it." I do not see anything in NAGPRA that mandates that scientists should put any shackles on rational thought or on scientific inquiry. Clark also laments the fact the NAGPRA has given "minorities greater weight under the law than the universalistic perspective that underlies scientific inquiry." My only comment is that there are many laws in the U.S. that benefit minority groups precisely because of their minority status including the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, not to mention the 13th Amendment (which ended slavery), and the 19th Amendment (woman's suffrage) to the Constitution of the United States. The fact that NAGPRA was passed (November 16, 1990) to benefit Native Americans should not be too surprising nor alarming to scientists; after all, the Antiquities Act (1906), the National Historic Preservation Act (1996), and ARPA (1979) were all passed by Congress to benefit the people of the United States, which just so happens to benefit an even smaller minority group of professionals that call themselves archaeologists.

Clark also asserts that human remains "are perceived by western science to pertain to a generalized human past as part of a universal heritage not circumscribed by ethnic or cultural boundaries." I agree that science has tried to do this, but this is irrelevant when debating the issues about NAGPRA, since NAGPRA deals specifically with Native American burials and sacred objects, not a universal human heritage. Clark goes on to misrepresent NAGPRA by stating that the 1990 act requires consultation of "very broadly defined Native American constituencies [although NAGPRA concerns itself with federally recognized tribes, which is rather narrowly defined] and mandates the repatriation...of all human remains and artifacts [actually, only burial objects or objects of cultural patrimony, not all artifacts] recovered from archaeological sites, including those not affiliated with any known or recognized Native American group." This is blatantly false, since NAGPRA states specifically that only federally recognized tribes can make claims. Clark continues his harangue by stating that NAGPRA "is an unmitigated disaster for archaeologists, bioarchaeologists, and other physical anthropologists concerned with the study of human skeletal remains. This is because NAGPRA puts ethnicity and religious belief on an equal footing with science and thus provides a mandate for claims of affiliation by virtually any interested party."

As I indicated earlier, no Native American group that I know of wants their belief systems taught "on an equal footing" in the science classroom. Clark continues his attacks against the demons of science by alluding to political definitions of race, by appealing to our "science-like" endeavors, and by asserting that the science of archaeology is the only game in town. I cannot respond to such histrionics, and I can only say that Clark either has not read NAGPRA thoroughly, or misunderstands it completely. Clark hardly addresses the real issues enumerated by NAGPRA. First and foremost among these, NAGPRA seeks to repatriate those human remains and sacred objects, and requires that each federal agency and each museum shall (1) compile and inventory such items (Sec. 5a), (2) shall provide a written summary of such objects (Sec. 6a), and (3) shall expeditiously return such remains and associated funerary objects (Sec. 7a). If cultural affiliation cannot be established through an inventory or summary then it can be established "by a preponderance of the evidence based upon geographical, kinship, biological, archaeological, anthropological, linguistic, folkloric, oral traditional, historical, or other relevant information or expert opinion" (Sec. 7, 4).

Regarding the ownership of human remains and sacred objects which are excavated or discovered on federal or tribal lands after the date of enactment (November 16, 1990), NAGPRA is even more succinct: ownership (Sec. 3) shall be (with priority given in the order listed):

"(1) in the lineal descendants of the Native American; or
(2) in any case in which such lineal descendants cannot be ascertained...

a) in the Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization on whose tribal land such objects or remains were discovered;
b) in the Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization which has the closest cultural affiliation...;
c) if the cultural affiliation of the objects cannot be reasonably ascertained...
1) in the Indian tribe that is recognized as aboriginally occupying the area...; or
2) if it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that a different tribe has a stronger cultural relationship..."

This, in a nutshell, is what NAGPRA addresses, with all of the hems and haws taken out of it. NAGPRA addresses the issues of inventories, summaries, ownership, and cultural affiliation of human remains and sacred objects if this can reliably be ascertained, although this latter determination is not crucial for repatriation to occur by the claimant given the ownership priority listed above.

NAGPRA does not address the issue of just any artifacts that are recovered from archaeological sites per se, but only burials or those items that are associated with burials, or those that are considered sacred or that are items of cultural patrimony. NAGPRA does not prohibit archaeology from being done on Indian lands or on federal lands, since this would be contrary to tribal and federal laws. On the Navajo reservation, for example, millions of dollars are now being spent on archaeology to comply not only with NHPA, but also with NAGPRA. There does not seem to be any problem with complying with both laws as they are interpreted on Navajo Nation land, much to the credit of both Euro-American and Native American archaeologists now working for the benefit of the Navajo Nation.

NAGPRA has also been used to aid in the recovery of sacred items and human remains of many Indian tribes, and has been used to prosecute dealers of aboriginal treasures, whose only interest in the past seems to be the acquisition of "dead presidents", i.e., money. Two years ago, for example, the remains of Black Kettle's Northern Cheyenne tribe, who were massacred at the Washita River in 1868, were returned for reburial after nearly 125 years. In another case (1996), the Navajo tribe recovered from an art dealer a rare medicine bundle (jish) belonging to the Salt Clan, and two ceremonial masks. The dealer was eventually prosecuted under the provisions of NAGPRA.

The demon-haunted world that Clark warns against involves both scientists and nonscientists alike. I prefer to understand our world by looking at all sides of an issue, and realize that I am a citizen of this planet first, and a scientist second. I prefer to use science as a tool to accurately inform me about the world I live in so that I can make decisions that may help my fellow creatures on this increasingly smaller globe, but I certainly do not use it as a creed to live by. I find that there are other satisfying sources for that. Science can inform us about the "real" world, at least to some degree of certainty, and this is beneficial, but it cannot inform us about the truth or about justice. We as human beings establish those things for ourselves without the proofs or theorems that science demands. We have what the ancient Greeks call pathos, experience to guide us. Rather than search for those demons of reason in the camps of the untutored or uninitiated, maybe we should first guard ourselves against finding those little voices within our own heads which tell us that every one else is wrong and that we are always right. The real demons of science, or of archaeology, sometimes hide themselves behind those borrowed robes of "reason" or "truth."

I end this letter with a quote from a great pioneer in the study of southwestern archaeology. In his now classic work, An Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology (1924), A. V. Kidder probably realized more than most the impact Euro-America had on Native American cultures. It is an insight and compassion that I rarely find on the pages of most of the journals I peruse in the course of my professional studies:

In the sixteenth century the Pueblos had fallen upon hard times; they had been forced from many of their old ranges, were reduced in numbers, and had lost something of their former skill in material accomplishments. But their customs had not changed, and they still held out undismayed among their savage enemies. There can be little doubt that had they been allowed to work out their own salvation, they would eventually have overcome their difficulties, and might well have built up a civilization of a sort not yet attempted by any group of men. It is the tragedy of native American history that so much human effort has come to naught, and that so many hopeful experiments in life and in living were cut short by the devastating blight of the white man's arrival [Alfred Vincent Kidder 1924:344].

Peter J. Kakos
Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department.

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