The right to rest in peace does not belong only to the New Americans but to all Americans and in particular, to the first Americans; the First Nations.
The violation of human dignity and the act of desecrating our graves has forever scarred our customs of honoring the dead. It can never be corrected. The 1868 Surgeon General's Policy "to collect Indian Crania for scientific study" has been manifested into the many federal policies that give archeologists authority over our people. The right to protect and the access to our sacred places have never been ceded to others.
We are nations of people whose graves have been and continue to be desecrated and looted for study by a profession designated as a technical service to the people and not the authority over the people. It is our responsibility as sovereign nations, to be responsible for our own people, including those ancestors who are long dead and buried. We must not allow archeologists authority over our dead because of the disparate treatment suffered by our people and because the use of ethnicity for scientific study in our homelands is an injustice - it is racist inhumanity.
Our relationship is a federal-trust relationship. The responsibility to uphold this unique role must be acknowledged by federal policy. Endorsement by the federal government to desecrate our sacred places such as the Buckeye Knoll site, also known as 41VT98 in Victoria, Texas, must be stopped.
The "Buckeye Knoll Cemetery" is located on property owned by Dupont Corporation; recorded and named in 1982 by the Corps of Engineers (COE), Galveston District. In 2000, archeologists began testing to determine National Register eligibility. In 2001, four burials were excavated and 25 graves were left exposed. The Texas State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) demanded that all graves be completely excavated resulting in the removal of more than 80 remains. A letter from the COE notified the Comanche Nation and other First Nations of the act on Oct. 12, 2001 and requested consultation.
On Feb. 12, 2002, the First Nations officials met with the COE at the Dupont location to discuss the appropriate treatment of the excavated remains. The tribal officials present expressed that the proper treatment would be to put the people back and halt all testing.
An Agreement of Understanding was signed on June 12, 2002, by the Comanche, Kiowa, Alabama-Coushatta, Choctaw and the Mescalero Apache, to repatriate the remains held in custody by the COE in the laboratory of Coastal Environmental Inc., Corpus Christi, Texas. The agreement stressed the importance of the immediate repatriation and cited the rights to that request. The COE was directed to immediately begin the repatriation process.
Resolutions of support to the request by the United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc., and the National Congress of American Indians' Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Committee followed. Letters from the tribal officials were sent to various federal and state agencies asking for assistance in the matter.
To date, the endorsement by the state and federal entities has been on behalf of the scientific communities and has blindly ignored the requests of the First Nations to repatriate and stop all studies. In fact, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Texas Historical Commission and the COE have endorsed the request for a complete analysis to be performed and the request for castings to be made of the people and funerary items removed from the Buckeye Cemetery. The rights of the individuals exhumed, and those who legally represent them, have altogether been swept aside.
The policies of the First Nations have never changed regarding the treatment of our ancestors; however, it is time to acknowledge that federal policy must change to represent the position of the original inhabitants of the Americas. The right to rest in peace does not belong only to the new Americans but to all Americans and in particular, to the first Americans; the First Nations.
Jimmy Arterberry represents the Southern Plains, as the NCAI alternate and is a member of the Sacred Places Coalition. He currently resides in Medicine Park, Okla. and officially represents the Comanche Nation as the Tribal Historic Preservation officer, NAGPRA official and director of Environmental Programs.