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Harjo: Dancing on graves of missing Native Americans

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  • Harjo: Dancing on graves of missing Native Americans

    Posted: July 23, 2004 - 10:47am EST
    by: Suzan Shown Harjo / Columnist / Indian Country Today

    A bunch of white folks are dancing on the graves of missing Native Americans these days. The bodies are stashed in laboratories and other surrogate tombs, where adults experiment on them and use them in bizarre rituals.

    The first dancing white men are the federally-subsidized scientists who won a recent lawsuit and the reporters who are celebrating their victory of "science over religion" - the modern day metaphor for "cowboys and Indians" - in the case involving the Ancient One, the 9,000-year-old Native man who was found in 1996 near Kennewick, Wash.

    Northwest Native peoples want to rebury the Ancient One; Caucasian American scientists want to "study" him. Contorting federal Indian law and known history, the scientists convinced a handful of judges and a pack of reporters that the Ancient One is not Native American and that "study" is vital to determine whose hemisphere this is anyway.

    On July 19, the Indian tribes let the time run out to appeal the racially-biased decision to the Supreme Court. The scientists are clicking their heels and sharpening their knives and scrapers, poised to exercise their duty of white privilege.

    But, here’s the thing. The Ancient One has been studied by no fewer than 25 scientists to date, and those are just the ones whose names have been documented in court proceedings.

    The first one who studied the Ancient One was Dr. James C. Chatters, who crowed his forensic findings from every available rooftop. Chatters since claims he was misquoted by every reporter who wrote that Kennewick Man was Caucasian, saying he only said the human remains were "Caucasoid."

    Chatters hinted broadly in an article in the New York Times this week that the Ancient One might have been the first man in this land - his own Caucasoid ancestor, he hopes - then came "the ones we call Native Americans now" who "didn’t like him very much" and speared him.

    Chatters wants to study the spear point and get to the bottom of the case. He had full possession of the Ancient One and studied him in 1996. Someone lifted some of the human remains, which remain unaccounted for today, and may be the source of someone else’s basement studies. One wonders what else could be gleaned from scrapings from the Ancient One’s teeth or another look at the spear point he carried to his death.

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has something to say about the kind of "studies" the scientists can conduct, is advocating a limit to destructive analysis. They are right to try to stem the tide of the free-for-all and should be commended for their efforts.

    Congress needs to back them up and to clarify the repatriation laws so that even judges and scientists can understand them.

    Another set of dancing Caucasians are members of the elite Skull and Bones Society at Yale University. Skull and Bones comes to media attention any time someone named Bush runs for public office. Today it is under increased scrutiny, with an anticipated presidential election between two Bonesmen, Pres. George W. Bush (Class of ’67) and Sen. John F. Kerry (Class of ’65).

    Skull and Bones legend has it that Bush’s grandfather, Sen. Prescott Bush of Connecticut, and two fellow Bonesmen dug up the body of the great Apache leader, Geronimo, in Oklahoma in 1918, and stole his head. Bonesmen from later classes posed for photographs behind a skull and two crossed leg bones. It is said that Bonesmen open their meetings and perform cultish practices with Geronimo’s skull.

    When the story of Geronimo’s head surfaced in Vice Pres. George H.W. Bush’s successful bid for the presidency, the candidate did not comment on any matters pertaining to the Skull and Bones Society or its secret practices. It is widely thought among Native Americans who worked on the national repatriation laws that he signed the 1989 and 1990 laws in order to atone for his family’s desecration and theft of dead Indians.

    Based on the very public claims that Geronimo’s head is in the Skull and Bones Society’s tomb, the police in New Haven, Conn., and/or federal authorities should raid the joint and return Geronimo to his people.

    It is possible that Prescott Bush and the other grave robbers were lying about whose head they stole, and it may belong to another Apache person buried, but only in part, in the same burial ground at Fort Sill.

    It also is possible that the Skull and Bones Society has the head of Mangus Colorado, a relative of Geronimo’s. The literature suggests that he may have been killed so "scientists" could study his head, which was of great interest to Caucasian men of the time because of its size - the same as that of Daniel Webster, who was known for having a large head, but the brain of Mangus Colorado was larger, as "scientists" proved.

    The skull of Mangus Colorado was stamped with an inventory number by the U.S. Army for its Indian Crania Study and given to the Smithsonian Institution. It was then loaned out for private study to some early version of the scientist who has the rest of the Ancient One. It has been missing ever since the early 1900s.

    Wherever the truth lies, the Skull and Bones Society owes Native America an apology. Pres. Bush and Sen. Kerry should be ashamed of themselves and should call for their Society to return the head to the Apache Tribe.

    Other Caucasians dancing on empty Native graves are the bunch running the repatriation office in the National Park Service. The National Congress of American Indians is calling for the NPS to be stripped of its repatriation duties, declaring in a resolution passed in June that the NPS cannot enforce repatriation law because of conflicts of interest and suppression of vital information.

    The NCAI has called for Congress to "provide a technical amendment to [repatriation law] clarifying that the definition of ‘Native American’ includes all cultural items that are related to a group indigenous to the United States regardless of whether there is also a present-day Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization."

    It is time for Congress and all the would-be presidents to stop all the Caucasians from dancing on empty graves and to let Native Americans rest in peace. If they can’t match up Native people with their own burial places, perhaps it is time for Congress to stop all the indecent probing of the deceased and for the United States to build an honorable place of rest, a Tomb of the Unknown Native American.

    Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and a columnist for Indian Country Today.

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