By Greg Harman
The fight over the remains of numerous “archaic hunter-gatherer” Indians held at the Witte Museum is far from settled. While protestors haven’t been able to maintain their avowed weekly protests, several of the organizers will be back in front of the museum late morning Saturday.
Juan Mancias, tribal chair of the Carrizo Nation, the most likely Native American group connected to several bundle burials held at the Witte, wants those remains returned for reburial — even if that takes a protracted PR war on the museum. “I promised my ancestors I’d be there, and I’m going to be there as often as I possibly can.”
Of course, federal law, specifically the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, only requires such returns when there is a federally recognized tribe to work with. Unfortunately, the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation, still weaving its way through the recognition process, hasn’t been “legitimized” by the Great White Fathers in Washington, D.C.
While Witte reps have begun the meeting process with representatives of several Native American groups, the pressure to work under NAGPRA guidelines has diminished the chances of a speedy return, Mancias and others told the Current. I was familiarized with the challenges the federal law plays in a state where most Indians don’t enjoy federal recognition while writing Battle of the Bones.
But, hey. NAGPRA isn’t all that. According to Indian Country Today, a scathing new report by the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and the Makah Nation of Washington spotlights the apparent misuse of NAGPRA funds that has resulted in the failure of the U.S. Parks Service to return the remains of hundreds of native peoples for reburial.
Says Mancias of the Witte talks: “I think a lot of it is still argumentative at their part and they just want to keep holding on to the bones. I don’t even know why they want to hold onto them, really. They’ve already extracted enough DNA and did the studies on the mandibles. They should just put them back in the ground, whether they give them to us or not.”
Here’s an excerpt of the ICT report: