Re: A Demand for the Kennewick Man's Remains
Sun, 24 Nov 1996 15:58:33 -0600

On Sat, 23 Nov 1996, Stella Nemeth wrote:

> wrote:

(Lots of stuff that we both agree on snipped)

> >Of course, a Euro-American claim on the skeleton is just the sort of
> >proprietary politicking about ownership of the past that NAGPRA emerged
> >as a response to.
> Now we come to the real question. Why is the claim of a person who
> happens to be "Euro-American" (only God knows if the man is or is not
> of European background alone) more "proprietary politicking" than the
> claims of Native Americans. This skeleton is thousands of years old.
> The likelihood that the particular group of Native Americans which
> claimed it being descendants of this skeleton is not great. In fact
> it is probably quite unlikely.

Yes, but it's a question of grouping rather than lumping. Look at all of
the p.c. terms for Americans of various descent: African-, Native-,
Asian-, Mexican-, &c. Very often, when people (probably mostly
Euro-Americans) say "American," they are thinking of Euro-Americans. I
say Euro-American in a conscious effort to avoid defining Americans as
Euro-Americans. But that doesn't mean I'm always successful (see below).

So in terms of NAGPRA, what we see happening in the politics of it is
that Euro-Americans (which self-annointed defenders of archaeology
frequently are) identify as a single group but require the Native
Americans to act as separate cultural/tribal entities. If you read
NAGPRA and the rules & regs surrounding it, you find that its remedies
are only available to Federally-recognized tribes. Further, you find
that cultural affiliation must be determined before the bones go to
anyone -- but cultural affiliation is understood to be tribal. We have a
double standard -- people who are Euro-American are just Euro-American;
whether we're Scottish, Irish, French, German, or whatever-American is
irrelevant because it's the "Euro" that matters more than the particular
country. Besides, given all the intermarriage, country is hard to identify.
Native Americans, however, are not given the latitude to act as a united
group of people. When you're talking about someone who is 9,000 years
old, though, modern tribal distinctions are likely irrelevant. What
matters is not what tribe(s) the person may be most closely related to,
but that the person is Native American. The differences between the
person's living beliefs and those of any extant Native American group are
probably pretty big -- but they're still probably much more similar to
any extant Native American group than to any Euro-American group. When
you get back into times where modern groups won't hold, maintaing the
divisions between such groups is ridiculous.

Look at how things are classified through time -- older units are much
more comprehensive than younger ones. The more recent something is, the
more splitting we do, because we can recognize more variation. This goes
for geological time, the drawing of evolutionary trees, "ages" of
history, and so on. But what is going on here is that some people are
trying to use recent splits as a basis for categorizing the distant past --
knowing that the past can't be categorized that way. This is just
another means to exercise control.

One of my classmates at South Carolina would always argue this. He'd say,
"The problem is that then you might get Native American remains being
claimed by other Native American groups which might have been thought of
as enemies by the people in question when they were alive." This is not
_THE_ problem. This is _A_ problem. And whose is it? I have heard more
archaeologists complaining about this than Native Americans (not to say
that Native American attitudes are monolithic and united in this or any
respect), although that may also be because I have had much more
interaction with the former than the latter. But I suspect that if it
came down to arkies vs. Native Americans (rather than arkies vs. Lakota
vs. Mandan vs. Ojibwa vs. whoever else), the Native Americans would
prefer to act as a united front while it would be the archaeologists
insisting that they act as distinct groups. Why? United they stand,
divided they fall. This is a big reason you see so much `respect' among
archaeologists for Native American cultural traditions when it comes to
NAGPRA. It's a way to maintain power by keeping the opposition unbalanced.

> >.... Because we Euro-Americans assumed that we know best,
> >and that Science is good for everyone and everyone had better admit to that.
> >Know what?
> What is it with this **we** Euro-Americans? MY parents were born in
> and/or grew up in Asia. You want to beat your chest and do the guilt
> trip, please be my guest. But don't include me in. I am not
> ethnically or genetically equiped to be classified as a
> "Euro-American."

Point taken. All I can say in my defense is that by the time I got that
far in my post, I wasn't responding to you in particular so much as using
your post as a stump from which to make my speech. Same with this one.
The vast majority of the archaeologists I know (professional and amateur)
are Euro-American, but you're right, that doesn't make them all that. Sorry.

Rebecca Lynn Johnson
Ph.D. stud., Dept. of Anthropology, U Iowa