The Reburial Controversy:
a general overview and exploration of a method for resolution
of the ethical dilemma
by Eric Pettifor
Good friend, for Jesus sake forebear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blest be the man that spares these stones
And curst be he that moves my bones.
(epitaph on his grave marker)
(Riverside Shakespeare, 1974)
It is easy on first consideration of the reburial controversy
to see a double standard in play, where European graves are sacred,
and Indian graves are not, but as was clear to William Shakespeare,
Europeans have long had a penchant for moving bones about when
it has suited them (as well consider the grave digger in Hamlet
who tosses up Yorick's skull while digging Ophelia's grave - in
a couple of decades it will be Ophelia's skull that makes an airborne
reappearance to make way for someone else).
The sacredness of European graves is provisional and of limited
time duration, typically the lifetime of the immediate descendants
of the deceased, providing they are concerned for the preservation
of the grave. Sometimes even if they are concerned it is of no
consequence if they are in the lower socioeconomic class and do
not have the resources to assert their interest. There are many
factors that come into play which will not be discussed here (see
McGuirre, 1989), but sufficeth to say, the grave which is least
likely to be disturbed is the one from the wealthy family with
the huge tombstone and the conspicuousness of prestige (or else
the grave of a cultural treasure like William Shakespeare, especially
if there is an explicit curse attached!) "The sanctity of
the grave is regarded as being primarily a concern of the family
and the cemetery, and only secondarily as a community matter."
If the grave is ancient, descendants of the deceased themselves
long buried, the original community lost even to memory, then
it is fair to dig it. McGuirre notes that those of European descent
"accept without question the routine excavation and curation
of Indian graves which they equate with the ancient graves regardless
of the age of the Indian burials." (McGuirre, 1989, emphasis
In Western thought, primitive is a temporal concept that creates
otherness by relegating people to an ancient time, regardless
of their true historical context (Fabian, quoted in McGuirre,
This tendency to regard Indians as primitive, an ancient race,
and so on, is the legacy of the 19th century idea that the Indian
was a dying race. To the perception of archaeologists are graverobbers
we may add archaeologists as undertakers putting to rest the Indian
people - "It is clear that the Indian with his inability
to preserve his own culture or to assimilate ours, is bound to
disappear as a race indeed if he has not already found his way
into the pious hands of museum archaeologists." (Barbeau,
1923, quoted in Doxtator, 1988) By asserting their rights over
reburial of remains claimed to be those of their ancestors Indians
are effectively making their presence known and in a sense are
saying 'We have been, we are, and we will continue to be, and
you must respect us as we define ourselves.'
Yet it would be a mistake to characterize Indian demands for
reburial as being entirely a political strategy. Clearly it can
be and is used to these ends, but even from this perspective we
have to ask what it is that they are fighting for. Only a committed
cynic could maintain it is entirely an exploitation of 'white
guilt' in order to gain commercial property and profit. At the
root is a concern for cultural identity, continuity, and survival.
A significant part of Indian culture is in its spirituality. Indians
did not suffer a split as Western society did at the beginning
of the 17th century between science and religion. Just as prior
to this time in the West religion was in a real sense a science,
a world view which explained "Life, the Universe, and Everything"
(Adams, 1982), and Indian spirituality also serves this function,
including knowledge of prehistory - "[Archaeologists] understand
the past - but we know the past" (Cecil Antone, in
Spirituality is not divorced from ecology in this belief system,
they are part of the same thing, and this is of direct relevance
He [the dead] has done his work in this world and he is going
to another world to go back to the mother earth where we all came
from . . . if he is disturbed he is out there, wandering, his
spirit is not fully with the mother earth . . . (Cecil Antone,
in Hubert 1989).
. . . [no] digging up the liver of mother earth, the veins,
the rivers of mother earth . . . the natural world is what we
would like to preserve for our future generations, we would like
them to see what we see today, where they can enjoy seeing their
brothers, their clan relatives, the eagles, the crows, the buzzards,
the rattlesnakes and those animals, those human beings - the sonora
fruit cactus - the various cacti and trees who through the burials
have grown up into trees and into cactus, and they are with us
too in that form, and we want our relations to be with us in whatever
form they are. (Cecil Antone, in Hubert 1989).
Violating the principles of this spiritual ecology can lead
to dire consequences.
We want to get rid of the sicknesses, we want to get rid of
the unhappy land . . . that is the result of digging up and leaving
empty the homes of the ancestors. From the empty homes, that is
where the sickness comes . . . the unhappiness; that is how our
children are killed, that is how we lose them, because we have
disturbed and desecrated those areas where we had our ancestors'
homes. (Cecil Antone, in Hubert 1989).
When the ferry terminal was being built at Twassen, British
Columbia, the province wanted a small amount of the band territory
for a road. The band agreed, provided the province build an access
road to their marina. The province agreed, but noted that the
road they wanted would be through a sacred site. The site was
excavated and arrangements made with Simon Fraser University for
the study of burial remains for a period of one year, after which
they would be returned to the band. Six months later the band
urgently requested the immediate return of the remains. During
that time there had been a run of what would be regarded from
a Western perspective as 'bad luck'. There were several deaths
and a band member had absconded with all of the band money. The
Twassen tribe attributed this misfortune to the removal of the
bones (Hobler, 1995).
The consequences of violation of these principles are not
necessarily limited to Indians. "Many traditional people
believe that the continuing desecration threatens the spiritual
balance and harmony of the entire world..." (Hammil and Cruz,
Bones should become dust. Mother earth lacks these bodies;
if they are not returned there will be earthquakes and mother
earth will take all these people. (Arizona Inter Tribal Council,
in Hubert, 1989)
Given that the concerns of Indians are very real, even if
we don't share their belief system, why not simply cede their
demands? The bones are those of their ancestors, after
all. Shouldn't they be the ones to say how they are treated?
The loss to archaeology of a source of data of such major
importance would be devastating. Study of burials can yield data
as to disease patterns, diet, changes in population, demographics,
culture, environment, and society (Hubert, 1989). Arguments for
social stratification are often based upon variance in grave goods.
The principles involved in Indian demands for reburial would prohibit
of digging graves at all, and grave goods would also fall into
the category of the sacred (do not touch).
Reburial of the source of data used in archaeological interpretations
would make it exceedingly difficult for future archaeologists
to confirm or disconfirm those interpretations through recourse
to the source of the data. Concerning the historic period one
of the blessings archeology has bestowed is the ability to lend
support or call into question historical accounts. Without recourse
to the original data source, archaeological interpretations would
become in time no better than the documents of the historians
themselves, and any claims of archeology to being a science, hard
or soft, would be seriously called into question.
Clement W. Meighan worries that these restriction will lead
to a loss in the vitality of American archaeology in general.
An entire field of academic study may be put out of business.
. . . archaeology students are now steered away from digs where
they might actually find some American Indian remains. American
archaeology is an expiring subject of study ~ one in which new
students no longer choose to specialize. Instead, they specialize
in the archaeology of other countries, where they will be allowed
to conduct their research and have some assurance that their collections
will be preserved. (1994)
. . . When scholarly classes in United States archaeology
and ethnology are no longer taught in academic departments (they
are diminishing rapidly), when the existing collections have been
selectively destroyed or concealed, and when all new field archaeology
in the United States is a political exercise rather than a scientific
investigation . . . . [American] leadership in archaeological
research . . . . will be lost, and it will be left to other nations
to make future advances in archaeological methods, techniques,
and scholarly investigations into the ancient past. (1992)
Concerning the above question as to the remains being ancestral
to Indians and therefore subject to Indian claims, there is not
universal agreement on this point. It would be difficult to argue
that even the most ancient human bones are not ancestral to modern
day Indians in general, but claims of specific tribes to bones
allegedly ancestral becomes increasingly difficult to prove as
one moves farther and farther back into prehistory. Meighan is
very clear on this point:
Museum materials 5,000 years old are claimed by people who
imagine themselves to be somehow related to the collections in
question, but such a belief has no basis in evidence and is mysticism.
Indeed, it is not unlikely that Indians who have acquired such
collections for reburial are venerating the bones of alien groups
and traditional enemies rather than distant relatives. (1992)
In this same article Meighan suggests that "Professional
organizations should work to amend the legislation dealing with
archaeology to get a time cut-off inserted: Remains older than
a certain age should not be subject to reburial." and goes
on to state that the reburial of a 10,600 year old skeleton in
Idaho "should never have happened". What Meighan fails
to realize is that from a pan-Indian perspective, relationships
like friend or enemy do not matter. Further, Indian spiritual
beliefs also operate in the present and apply to all people -
that is, their spiritual beliefs are not perceived as only being
true for Indians. The worldview is exactly that, global, and no
one is outside it, past, present, or future. We can argue that
these beliefs are incorrect, that we do not see them as applying
to ourselves, but we must appreciate their perspective and attempt
to understand it if we are to avoid arguing at cross-purposes.
From the Indian perspective it would be wrong even for the bones
of Meighan, a contemporary enemy, to be displayed in a glass museum
case and for his spirit to be trapped there. To treat such beliefs
as mysticism, whether they are or not (and assuming Meighan is
using the term in the pejorative), is to invite an adversarial
relationship. From a pragmatic perspective this clearly should
be avoided, unless we are very certain of being able to force
From the ethical perspective things do not seem immediately
clear. If ethics are relative, then the ethics of archaeology
are at odds with the ethics of the Indian community. Will the
'correct' ethics be chosen through a democratic expression of
public opinion? Perhaps, but if so, given current public opinion
in favour of the Indians, this would not bode well for archaeology.
Or one can adopt the premise that ethics are not relative
and that therefore can be useful as a tool for the assessment
and resolution of dilemmas. This perspective is one taken by the
Social Science Federation of Canada (SSFC), and is outlined in
their publication Ethical Decision Making for Practicing Social
Scientists (Cannie Stark-Adamec and Jean Pettifor, 1995).
a) Dilemmas may result from conflict between the interests
of different parties.... Can all interests be served, or must
priorities be set and choices be made?
b) Dilemmas may arise from conflict between principles...
c) Dilemmas may arise from the sheer complexity of competing
parties and pressures.
d) Dilemmas may arise from lack of awareness of the probable
consequences of some behaviour, or lack of foresight, or lack
of knowledge of ethical principles.
To some extent the reburial conflict involves all of the above
sources of dilemma. The SSFC advocates 9 steps towards the resolution
of such dilemmas, the first five of which are:
1. Identify the ethically-relevant issues, principles, standards,
rules and practices.
2. Identify the different parties affected by your decision
and their special characteristics and interests.
3. Develop all the alternative courses of action.
4. Analyze the likely short-term, ongoing, and long term risks,
benefits, consequences of each course of action on different persons
who may be affected by your decision.
5 Consider how any personal values, biases, beliefs, or self-interest
may influence your decision ~ either positively or negatively.
In considering the first point, an ethically-relevant question
might be can human remains be treated as 'stuff'? Can a person
or group 'own' human remains? The answer from a Western perspective
is clearly 'yes'. Drawers and cabinets are filled with such remains.
It is not only clear from an atheistic perspective, but even Western
spirituality regards the dead body as something which is left
behind in favour of some sort of spiritual body. The remains of
the dead are to be treated with respect in the short term at least,
there is often some ceremony, and survivors may have some attachment
to the place where such remains are laid to rest, but all of this
is of limited duration and primarily for the benefit of the bereaved.
The soul has gone elsewhere.
From the Indian perspective the only owner who has clear title
the remains of the dead is Mother Nature. The remains are not
static, but play a dynamic role in a spiritual-ecological process.
They have their place, and it is not in the possession of any
person or institution. Spirit is attached to the dead matter,
and if it is in a drawer in an archaeology lab, then there also
is the spirit trapped.
Or as Chief Seattle summarized this difference, "To us
the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their final resting
place is hallowed ground, while you wander far from the graves
of your ancestors and, seemingly, without regret." (1854,
in Turner, 1989)
Many archaeologists (including Meighan) feel that they have
some sort of obligation to tell the story of the people of prehistory.
They feel that the best way to do this is through some form of
scientific method which draws cultural inferences from material
remains. Historical records are a good source, but may be suspect
and are stronger if they can be supported by archaeological evidence.
Oral 'history' is often seen as falling into the category of mythology
and reliability is perceived as decreasing the farther back in
time the events being related. If relationship is not recognized
between these people of prehistory and contemporary Indians, then
there is no obligation to contemporary Indians. They are unrelated
and contemporary Indian claims can be dismissed as irrelevant.
Indians, on the other hand, place a greater emphasis on oral
history and tradition. Literacy is a recent acquisition for Indians,
and they are aware that it is a European import which their ancestors
did without from the beginning of time when they were created.
They don't only understand their prehistory, they "know"
it (Cecil Antone, in Hubert 1989). The people of prehistory are
regarded as ancestors and very strongly related. For them a keenly
felt issue is that of respect. Hammil and Cruz (1989) asked of
the O'Odham nation in Southern Arizona "What message . .
. would you send to a world organization of archaeologists?"
You tell them that we do not treat our bones with such disrespect.
Those bones are our ancestors . . . and they are sacred. By disturbing
the ancestors' graves and spirits, they have caused many problems
and hard times for our people and this makes us very sad. You
tell them that the bones of our ancestors must be returned. They
are sacred and we do not treat our ancestors with such disrespect.
Yet the return of "the bones of the ancestors" seems
to some archaeologists to violate what they consider an ethical
obligation not only to the people of prehistory, but to living
people today (including Indians), as well as to future generations
(Goldstein and Kintigh, 1990). Destruction of data is analogous
to the burning of libraries.
The second point in the SSFC document (Stark-Adanec and Pettifor,
1995), "Identify the different parties . . . special characteristics
and interests," I believe has been covered adequately so
far in the brief overview that this paper represents.
The third point is "Develop all the alternative courses
of action." These courses fall broadly into three categories
which (viewed from the archaeological perspective) are: unconditional
surrender, never surrender, and compromise.
I will begin by exploring the 'unconditional surrender' approach,
since there is a holdover from the first point which is best addressed
in relation to this, and this is the idea that archaeologists
somehow have an inherent 'right' to dig graves. This a point which
Anthony L. Klesert and Shirley Powell (1993) stress again and
Archaeologists have no intrinsic right to survey, excavate
of manipulate the material remains of the past, and their failure
to understand this constraint is, we believe, the source of the
current and continued contention between archaeologists and Native
It is a perilous delusion to ever believe that archaeologists
have a natural "right" or overriding "mandate"
to dig up anything at all (Goldstein and Kintigh, 1990; Meighan,
1984; Turner, 1986; White, 1991), much less when that act interferes
with or is contrary to the religious and cultural beliefs of and
interests of those being studied or of their descendants (Adams,
We have no inherent right to dig or study human remains. Furthermore,
our obligations, once we might be permitted to conduct
such work, go well beyond the human tissue lying in our hands,
to the entire living system it represents.
To Meighan's criticism that constraints constitute an infringement
of academic freedom (Meighan, 1986, in Klesert and Powell, 1993),
they respond that
Academic freedom involves the freedom to think, to inquire,
and to espouse diverse philosophies. It does not and should not
include the freedom to act as one pleases. Actions (methods
and techniques) are not covered under academic freedom, nor should
they be. Excavating, analyzing, studying details of indigenous
cultures, and curating human remains are actions, not thoughts,
and are therefore subject to ethical constraints.
However, this begs the question of the extent of religious freedom
as well. Does it extend to dictating what archaeologists may
or may not do?
"Under the first amendment one is free to believe whatever
one wishes but cannot compel the actions of others in accord with
one's religious beliefs. Reburial is an "action" which
is forced upon archaeologists based on professed Indian religion."
A great deal of how one interprets which rights are to be respected
and which are being violated depends very much upon the beliefs
the interpreter possesses prior to even considering the question.
To some extent, then, higher principles are evoked to defend a priori
positions. This problem should be recognized up front in order
to avoid wasting time and energy self-righteously waving the banners
of rights and freedoms, something to which both sides have equal
access with neither side being wrong. From a pragmatic perspective,
archaeologists will dig whatever and wherever they want, according
to opportunity and constraints. Indian interests threaten to impose constraints,
and focus must be upon what their interest constitutes, how far
it is justified, and what measures need to be taken to see
that it is insured only to that extent.
It is tempting to characterize the 'never surrender' perspective
with the following quote from a newsletter of the American Committee
for Preservation of Archaeological Collections (ACPAC) (1986,
quoted in Hubert, 1989)
Archaeologists, your profession is on the line. Now is the
time to dig deep and help ACPAC with its expenses for legal fees.
Next year or next month will be too late; we have to act immediately
to fight this issue. This one will be resolved in court, not by
the press. We will be able to cross-examine Indians on their tribal
affinities, religion, and connection to the archaeological remains
they seek to destroy. We will be able to challenge anti-science
laws based on race and religion. We can make a strong case, but
it takes money. Send some!
Clearly, this is from the extreme edge of this perspective.
However, archaeologists in this camp (in any camp) have legitimate
concerns about loss of data that has been collected, and potentially
serious impairment of their ability to collect data and to interpret
North American prehistory in the future.
The most promising approach seems to be compromise, though
it is fraught with problems. In compromise neither side gets completely
what they want, and furthermore, to even begin an honest attempt
at compromise, both parties must be prepared to recognize, at
least to some reasonable extent, the legitimacy of the other.
What is the basis upon which the parties can arrive at this acknowledgment?
For archaeologists a critical factor in dealing with any Indian
group is the issue of relationship. What they offer the Indians
as a basis for their own legitimacy is simply the value of archaeology
as a tool with which to understand prehistory.
We concur with the Society for American Archaeology's (SAA)
position that the basis of legitimacy in the Native case is "relationship,"
and the basis of legitimacy for the scientific case is scientific
value. To the extent that we can achieve agreement, in the abstract
here, we believe that we can and should compromise. On the other
hand, to the extent that some Native Americans or some archaeologists
wish to have their belief systems dominate, we must strive to
prevent it. (Goldstein and Kintigh, 1990)
Goldstein and Kintigh are well advised to use the term "in
the abstract". They do not consider pan-Indian claims any
more legitimate than the "claims of a specific tribe where
the archaeological and historical evidence clearly indicates that
there is no relationship..." However, even if archaeologists
were prepared to accept pan-Indian claims, there would still be
concern for the legitimacy of the representation. If just any
old Indian person were to show up at the Archaeology Department
office of a major university and demand that his sack be filled
with remains for reburial, he would likely not be successful in
Meighan asks "whether a majority of living persons of
Indian descent actually favor reburial or the continued preservation
display, and study of Indian remains and artifacts..." Hammil
and Cruz insure that the credentials of their association,
American Indians Against Desecration (AIAD), and its objectives
are known (1989):
[AIAD] is a project of the International Indian Treaty Council
which was formed ... in 1974 with delegates representing some
97 Indian tribes and Nations from across North and South America.
We hold non-governmental status in the United Nations.
They estimate that half a million bodies are stored in government
financed institutions in the United States and that a half million
more are stored outside the United States.
It is AIAD's objective, and intent to ensure that all Indian
remains and sacred objects buried therewith are returned ... Anything
less is unacceptable and to ensure our objective's success, we
are training our children and grandchildren in locating and securing
the return of our ancestors and sacred items.
Though it would be comforting for archaeologists trying to
justify a hard line to characterize Indians seeking reburial of
remains as unaffiliated fanatics or political opportunists, it
seems in actuality that there are legitimate groups with claims
which should be considered, and that from the archaeological side
there is a basis for compromise.
Can Indians regard archaeologists as legitimate enough to
try to work at a compromise with?
As a result of this confrontation and conflict of values,
anthropology and archaeology are normally rejected by American
Indian students as potential professions, and by Native Americans
generally as irrelevant (or even pernicious) fields of study.
Klesert and Holt (1985, 1990), in an analysis of questionnaires
sent to nearly 300 American Indian tribes, support this contention;
fewer than half the responding tribes considered archaeology to
be of any benefit at all. (Anthony L. Klesert, 1992)
Meighan provides an example of going too far, in his opinion,
in cooperation in his 1991 example of the West Virginia Department
of Transportation's agreement with a "committee of Indians
and non-Indians" and an agreement made whereby all human
remains, chipping waste, food refuse, pollen samples and even
soil samples had to be given up within the year. The total cost
to taxpayers was $1.8 million U.S. dollars. Further, "Indian
activists were paid by the state to monitor the excavation and
to censor "objectionable" photographs or data appearing
in the final report." (1994). Also upsetting to Meighan was
the pan-Indian nature of the committee.
As if to emphasize their contempt for real ancestral relationships,
the activists . . . . included Indians from tribes as far
away as northwestern Washington, as well as non-Indians. Meanwhile,
the views of a local West Virginia tribe that favored preservation of
the remains were ignored. (1994, italics mine)
While for many Indians the legitimacy of archaeologists based
on the value of science is non-existent or severely circumscribed
at best, there are some positive examples. The Navajo are taking
an affirmative action approach with their Navajo Nation Archaeology
Department (NNAD) which, if successful in its long term objectives
will eliminate the question of archaeologists work with Indians
by developing Indian archaeologists. Currently they have professional
non-Indian archaeologists in the top positions, but they are aggressively
training Navajos, in cooperation with Northern Arizona University,
towards a day when the NNAD will be entirely staffed by Navajos.
They regard archaeological expertise as very important in land
claim cases, the protection of endangered graves, and tourism
(the establishment of Tribal Parks emphasizing prehistory of Navajo
people) (Klesert, 1992).
The Navajo example, with their establishment of a complete
archaeology department, is the best example of cooperation that
I have come across in my review, but there are many others as
well. Klesert points to the cooperation between the Kodiak Area
Native Association and Bryn Mawr College at Kodiak Island (Pullar,
1990, in Klesert, 1992). Phil Hobler's work on the North West
Coast has led to Indians developing a renewed interest in their
cultural past with the direct consequence of reinstitution of
potlatch festivals (Clark, 1995). A similar situation occurred
for the Colorado River Indians, who were given songs preserved
earlier by a museum:
... the elders started remembering. It started coming back
to them. They started singing, and somehow, the tribe got involved
in trying to recoup those old songs that had been lost. . . .The
elders would not have picked up some of those songs if they had
not gotten about them [sic] from the project. (Antone, in Hubert,
The benefits of cooperation do not extend only in one direction
either. Hobler has pointed out that the oral histories can provide
clues and confirmation for archaeological research. He points
to the legends of the two floods on the N.W. Coast, and how they
relate well to geological data supporting two marine transgressions
in prehistory (Hobler, 1995).
Larry J. Zimmerman likewise points to collaborative work between
archaeologists and The Pawnee Indians to
summarize the archaeological record of their tribe for a court
case involving repatriation of human remains. At the same time
Pawnee tribal historian Roger Echo-Hawk gathered previously recorded
oral history and other materials pertaining to Pawnee origins
and history. Since the case, archaeologist Steve Holen has worked
with Echo-Hawk to compare the archaeological record and the oral
history . . . . Many Pawnee narratives are reflected in the archaeological
In a sense, we lost the bones, but we gained something else
in return, compromise in action. Another point in favour of greater
respect for the oral tradition is that it deals with meaning.
Hobler (1995a) has pointed out that a difference between Old World
archaeology and New World is that the former is more humanistic
in its perspective, while the latter tends to be more 'scientific'
(just the facts ma'am). If there were a greater sense of meaning,
a story unfolding, then it would be of greater interest to people
in general, Indians and non-Indians alike.
The fourth point in ethical resolution of dilemmas outlined
by the SSFC is to "Analyze the likely short-term, ongoing,
and long term risks, benefits, consequences of each course of
action on different persons who may be affected by your decision."
Since this is a general overview of the reburial controversy I
will restrict myself to a summary of the effects on the different
groups in question.
The hard-line approach on the part of archaeologists may in
the short term preserve collections, but the current atmosphere
is tense and not conducive to getting work done, since the trust
of Indians is required for optimum results, especially when seeking
to work on Indian lands, and distrust leads to obstructionism.
In the long term this could lead to court cases and interpretations
of legislation which will be very much to archaeology's disadvantage.
The danger in giving in totally to Indian demands is that
items of archaeological value, even of the greatest value, will
be lost (as in Meighan's reference to reburial of 10,500 year
old remains in Ohio. (1992)) Furthermore, giving in completely
to pan-Indian demands could lead to complicity of archaeology
in the domination of the interests of local tribes by groups claiming
to represent pan-Indian interests (Meighan's example of the West
Virginia tribe which favoured preservation but was overruled (1994)).
In the short term compromise will require leaning more in
the direction of Indian's interest and the dangers outlined in
the paragraph above may be unavoidable. As far as the ongoing
is concerned there is not much advantage, since Indians will perceive
themselves as getting no more than what they've been entitled
to all along. In the long term, however, closer cooperation between
archaeologists and Indians will lead to a greater familiarity
with and respect for archaeology on the part of Indians, coupled
with a greater desire to utilize it as a tool. Positive examples
of cooperation will increase and attitudes towards archaeology
will change for the better. Our understanding of North American
prehistory will be richer when archaeological method works with
meaning rich traditional Indian perspectives to tell this ongoing
story of which we are all now a part.
The fifth SSFC point is to "consider how any personal
values, biases, beliefs, or self-interest may influence your decision ~
either positively or negatively."
If we are aware of our Eurocentric perspective, then we can
consider it and retain what is of value in it (we Indo-Europeans
are not conquering the world by simple application of brute force
alone), while at the same time being cautious of those elements
which function to the detriment of ourselves and others. If we
are not aware of this perspective, we will regard its products
and processes as being those of some fundamental 'truth' which
they are not.
The final three points of the SSFC are:
7. Act with a commitment to assume responsibility for the
consequences of the action.
8. Evaluate the results of the course of action.
9. Assume responsibility for consequences of your action,
including correction of negative consequences, if any, or reengaging
in the decision-making process if the ethical issue is not resolved.
Evaluation and responsibility are ongoing. The greater issue of which the reburial controversy
is a part is the cooperation of Indians and archaeologists towards
a deeper understanding of North American prehistory. The reburial
controversy is a litmus test of the extent to which this is possible.
The situation cannot be resolved, but it will evolve, and we can
act in our own interests by respecting the interests of Indians.
The best case scenario is one in which we harvest and share the
fruits of both perspectives ~ not once and for all, but season
by season, always aware of the weather.
Finally, as a closing note, I would like to ask the question,
very pertinent to reburial, whether we can close our minds totally
to spiritual concerns:
I think it is foolish to pretend on the basis of a wholly
materialistic science (which can only measure quantities) that
there is nothing spiritual and nonmaterial in our universe. It
is this attitude, as much as anything, that distinguishes Indians
from the rest of American society and most certainly from the
scientific endeavor. Whether there is sufficient proof of the
Indian beliefs and experiences or not, it is a hazardous thing
to assume without good cause that the Indians are lying or simply
superstitious. (Vine Deloria, Jr., 1992)
Having opened this essay with a spiritual warning from the
Bard, let me close with one from an Indian perspective:
The White Man will never be alone. Let him be just and deal
kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. (Chief
Seattle, 1854, in Turner, 1989)
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.....(1995a) In lecture, Archaeology of North America course, Simon
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Archaeology of Living Traditions. London: Unwin Hyman
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.....(1996) email to author, May 17th
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