Why Native Americans Are Concerned About Potential Exploitation of Their DNA

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.This image shows a Native woman from the Plains region carrying a baby on her back.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
This image shows a Native woman from the Plains region carrying a baby on her back.


Arvind Suresh, Indian Country Today


Until the advent of genetic genealogy, knowing your ancestry meant combing through old records, decoding the meaning of family heirlooms and listening to your parents and grandparents tell you about the “good old days.” For anthropologists and archaeologists interested in going back even further in time, the only reliable means of understanding human history were trying to interpret ruins or remnants of skeletons or other information uncovered at the site of remains.

DNA testing has changed all that, allowing us to delve far deeper into our past than before and with a much higher degree of accuracy. Although there are many issues stirred by DNA testing, none is more provocative than interpreting our family and tribal ancestries.

Nowhere is this more apparent than among the Native American tribes in the United States. I recently wroteabout a large-scale genetic analysis among the American population by personal genetics and genealogy company 23andMe, using its extensive database to begin to decipher the ancestral origins of various ethnic groups in the United States.

Though the study involved more than 160,000 people, less than less than one percent of those who participated self-identified as Native American. Rose Eveleth, a journalist writing for The Atlanticsuggests that this lack of participation may have a lot to do with how Native tribes perceive genetic testing:

But when it comes to Native Americans, the question of genetic testing, and particularly genetic testing to determine ancestral origins, is controversial. […] Researchers and ethicists are still figuring how to balance scientific goals with the need to respect individual and cultural privacy. And for Native Americans, the question of how to do that, like nearly everything, is bound up in a long history of racism and colonialism.

[…] for Native Americans, who have witnessed their artifacts, remains, and land taken away, shared, and discussed among academics for centuries, concerns about genetic appropriation carry ominous reminders about the past.

Eveleth references the widely publicized case where the Havasupai Tribe living near the Grand Canyon sued an Arizona State University scientist for using genetic samples collected from the tribe to conduct research outside of the purpose of the original study. The crux of the issue was the consent form, which covered a broad range of uses for the samples—a fact that the tribes claimed was not explained to them appropriately.

Although the tribe won the case, reclaimed the samples and settled with the university for $700,000, the issue captured the front pageof the New York Timesand put “every tribe in the US on notice regarding genetics research” as Native American tribal research ethics expert Ron Whitener quotedin an article titled “After Havasupai Litigation, Native Americans Wary of Genetic Research” published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A.

Around the same time that the genetics of the Havasupai were being studied, another high profile issue bought Native American tribes in conflict with researchers. The Kennewick Man, an approximately 9,000-year-old skeleton was discovered by accident in 1994 in Kennewick, Washington. The Umatilla Tribe, who were indigenous to the region, sought to reclaim the remains under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to bury it in accordance with traditions. Anthropology researchers who wanted to study the skeleton however, argued there wasn’t enough evidence to convincingly show that the remains were Native American and therefore should not be returned. This resulted in a widely publicized eight-year-long legal dispute between scientists and the government that ended in 2004 with the court ruling in favor of the archaeologists, a decision that the tribes were expectedly unhappy with.

Now, the issue has come under the spotlight once again with the Seattle Times reportinglast month that preliminary DNA analyses indicated that the Kennewick Man was indeed of Native American ancestry.

RELATED: The Long Legal and Moral Battle Over Kennewick Man

This piece originally appeared on February 2 at the Genetic Literacy Project. Read the rest of the article here.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/02/03/why-native-americans-are-concerned-about-potential-exploitation-their-dna-158993

Annenberg Foundation purchases, then donates Alaska Native art to institute

By Associated Press

Michael Penn | Juneau EmpireChuck Smythe, director of the History and Culture Department for the Sealaska Heritage Institute, holds a recently acquired wooden panel that appears to be part of an Tlingit bentwood box with a painted Chilkat design. The panel was bought at a contested auction in Paris by the Annenberg Foundation and donated to SHI.
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Chuck Smythe, director of the History and Culture Department for the Sealaska Heritage Institute, holds a recently acquired wooden panel that appears to be part of an Tlingit bentwood box with a painted Chilkat design. The panel was bought at a contested auction in Paris by the Annenberg Foundation and donated to SHI.

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) _ The Annenberg Foundation has donated Alaska Native artwork to the Sealaska Heritage Institute, which hopes to pinpoint the artifact’s originating clan.

The foundation bought the carved and painted wood panel at a Paris auction house last December when efforts failed to stop the piece and other tribal works from being sold, the Juneau Empire reported Thursday (SHI gets surprise donation).

There have been numerous attempts to circumvent the auction process, including sending U.S. Embassy letters, institute president Rosita Worl said.

The U.S. Embassy in Paris contacted one of the foundation’s trustees last December about participating in a French auction to repatriate artifacts to tribal leaders, Annenberg Ventures manager Carol Laumen said.

The trustee, Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, agreed, and foundation representatives successfully bid on 25 Hopi and Apache items and later on the wood panel.

A week later, the foundation notified the heritage institute about the purchase and intention to repatriate the panel.

The institute plans to reach out to southeast Alaska clans to try to determine the rightful home of the work, which may have been part of a bentwood box. The origin of the object is unknown, although it can be traced to southeast Alaska or British Columbia.

“It’s possible that somebody has that kind of detailed knowledge in a clan or a community,” said Chuck Smythe, the institute’s history and culture director.

The panel could be identified by comparing it with similar designs, historic photographs or matching the design with clan stories. Meanwhile, the Juneau institute is treating the object as a regional repository.

The panel will be displayed from time to time at the Walter Soboleff Center, which is being constructed. When not on display, it is being preserved as part of the institute’s collection.

“It will be available for our people to look at,” Worl said.


Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com

Native Nations treaty exhibit opens Sept. 21 at NMAI


Source: Native Times


WASHINGTON – The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will open the “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations” exhibit Sept. 21 during the museum’s 10th anniversary on the National Mall.

The exhibit is the museum’s most ambitious effort yet, presenting the Native nations’ individual treaties side-by-side in their largest historical collection ever presented to an audience. The exhibition focuses on eight treaties representing the approximately 374 ratified between the United States and the Native nations, on loan from the National Archives. Each document details and solidifies the diplomatic agreements between the United States and the neighboring Native nations.

More than 125 objects, including art and artifacts, from the museum’s collection and private lenders will be featured, including the Navajo blanket owned by Gen. William Sherman, a collection of Plains nations pipes and beaded pipe bags, peace medals given to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and the sword and scabbard of Andrew Jackson.

Video installations, archival photographs, wampum belts, textiles, baskets and peace medals highlight each historical moment and help tell the story of the early ancestors of the Native nations and their efforts to live side-by-side at the birth of the United States.

The exhibit will be on display through Sept. 1, 2018. The NMAI’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. It is closed on Dec. 25. Admission is free. The museum is located at 4th St. and Independence Ave. SW.

To learn more about the exhibit, email asia.romero@edelman.com, or call 202-772-4294.

INTERVIEW: Native People And The Trolls Under The Bridge

MintPress talks to a recent PhD recipient whose work focuses on how “rationalizations perpetuate the notion that American Indians are inherently different from non-natives.”




By Christine Graef, Mint Press News


AKWESASNE, New York — In the two decades since the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) became law, requiring federal agencies and institutions to return human remains and culturally identifiable items, about 38,671 individuals, 998,731 funerary objects, 144,163 unassociated funerary objects, 4,303 sacred objects, 948 objects of cultural patrimony and 822 sacred and patrimonial objects have been returned to their people, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“In terms of NAGPRA since 1990, changes are apparent, for sure, though I have found that this usually involves just subtle changes in language and not real, meaningful change,” said Brian Broadrose, a Seneca descendant who recently finished his doctoral studies at Binghamton University, where he focused on the relationship between anthropologists and Native Americans. “Last I checked, not a single institution with significant quantities of Native bodies and artifacts is in full compliance with the law.”

Despite being flouted as human rights legislation, Broadrose told MintPress that NAGPRA is actually a compromise.

Broadrose spent five years gathering more than 840 pages of data for his dissertation, concluding that the use of language in NAGPRA is deliberate, “in the sense that these categories were not created by Indians, but by those who possess our materials and have a vested interest in not returning it.”

“In its original wording it was strongly resisted by many of the most powerful anthro-organizations out there, including the Society for American Archaeology,” Broadrose said. ”The SAA would only support watered down legislation, whereby they would have exclusive control over the most relevant definitions — for example, a difference between funerary versus unassociated, culturally affiliated or not — and this was very definitely a theme echoed by the troll faction of ‘Iroquoianist’ scholars.”

Funerary objects are considered unassociated when found with human remains if they are not in the possession of a museum or federal agency.

He said the compromised legislation allowed the SAA to switch their scales of analyses, allowing them to make assertions like, “These objects and bodies are not associated or affiliated with the Iroquois, instead of these objects and bodies areassociated or affiliated with American Indians, in general.”

“I regularly found unmarked boxes of bones in various labs at state and private schools here in upstate New York,” he said.

Despite years of efforts to have the region’s ancestors repatriated, there are still some 800 Native American bodies held in New York museums.

“There is a very inadequate old law allowing for the collection of human remains by the State Education Department,” said Peter Jemison, State Historic Site Manager of Ganondagen in New York and Chairman of the Haudenosaunee Standing Committee on the Burial Rules and Regulations.

Jemison said that after years of trying, they found that building consensus across party lines was impossible. Lobbyists representing developers and even farmers prevented legislation from going beyond the committee phase.

“The state is still in possession of human remains; however, we are closer to repatriation,” Jemison said. “The same can be said of sacred objects. The ball is in our court.”

In his 2014 PhD dissertation, “The Haudenosaunee and the Trolls Under the Bridge: Digging Into the Culture of ‘Iroquoianist Studies,’” Broadrose also examined an example of a state rejecting Native educational curriculum that includes their history.

This relationship, he said, is “fraught with hostility and inequality” because of an unfortunate past. Scholars disregarding the significance of American Indian artifacts, unethical and immoral practices continues into the 21st century because “rationalizations perpetuate the notion that American Indians are inherently different from non-natives,” he said.



Thegroup of ‘Iroquoianist’ scholars consistently minimize the role of the Haudenosaunee in their own Euroamerican culture while overstating the influence of civilized whites upon the Haudenosaunee,” Broadrose wrote in his thesis, which will be published in its entirety by the university this fall.

Dubbed “the trolls,” a term referring to beings from European mythology lurking under bridges, the bridge being what could connect Native people and their history with Euro-Americans and their history, they persistently denied voice to the “Other,” he wrote.

Hiding as if under a bridge, ready to attack those who attempt to cross and meet in the middle, “Many don’t want anything to do with Indians as living breathing people who throw a wrench into the salvage archaeology they continue to practice, which is of course based upon the faulty ‘disappearing Indian paradigm.’”

In the late 1980s the idea for a curriculum supplement was suggested by Donald H. Bragaw, chief of the Bureau of Social Studies Education, at a meeting between New York’s Natives and the State Education Department (SED).

In 1987, a meeting convened between representatives of the SED and the Haudenosaunee Council, including Jake Swamp, Leon Shenandoah, Bernard Parker, Leo Henry, Doug-George Kanentiio, John Kahionhes Fadden, and others. All were in agreement that there were areas that needed work and they were ready to set to the job of supplementing curriculum.

On March 10, 1988 Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii wrote to Fadden, as quoted in Broadrose’s thesis, “The educational project that you and others are undertaking with the New York State Education Department is important to the education of all children, Indian and non-Indian alike”

In what may easily be one of the most positive cooperative efforts between the state and the Haudenosaunee, a 400-page guide for schools, “Haudenosaunee: Past, Present, and Future: a Social Studies Resource Guide,”was drafted.

“The Haudenosaunee authors of the ill-fated curriculum guide wrote their history in a powerful, meaningful work that would have educated young non-native populations in the state of New York about what was here before, and what remains vibrant and in existence today,” Broadrose said.

Then, in 1988, the reviews started rolling in. The SED had solicited evaluations from some 30 experts, including anthropologists, historians and school teachers.

All but five gave positive reviews. The others, however, were “abusively negative,” according to Broadrose. The state dismissed the curriculum guide on the basis of these five, who claimed the Haudenosaunee did not align with what scholars had decided about them, despite the scholars never incorporating the input of any Native American into their research.

Examining the critics, he found, “Arguments of ‘they didn’t use our research,’ to ‘Indians can’t be historians,’ to wanting to save the ideas of the culture while the Indians themselves went extinct detailing charges of reverse racism — that the Haudenosaunee are anti-white — to the charge that the guide authors are political activists with political agendas, to the concern that the proper sources — trolls — were not employed in the guide.”

Finding an assumption of the infallibility of the written Westernized word over other forms of historical recollections, Broadrose said the critics were also “serving as expert consultants and witnesses in court cases involving land or the establishment of casinos, that often encompass the wishes of just single nations or of just single corporate groups.”

“Before anthros resume their seemingly unending study of the Other, perhaps they should devote some research time to studying themselves, their own culture and its role in the production and constructions of pasts,” he said.


The trolls

Collectively, the troll faction of Iroquoianist scholars who rejected the curriculum have been cited by other scholars and themselves 9,263 times, invoking their own authority to perpetuate their own litany, according to Broadrose’s research.

He citedClayton W. Dumont Jr., a member of the Klamath Tribe and NAGPRA specialist, who compared it to a scenario of conquered Americans requesting to have the remains of George Washington repatriated to them.

“After all, Washington had different material culture objects buried with him, different clothing, different technology, and overall lived quite differently than today’s Americans,” he said. “American Indians must, therefore, look and act like the anthropological version of their deceased ancestors, denying them the dynamic nature and adaptability of Euro-American cultures, denying them the ability to change.”

The deliberate complexities in NAGPRA are seen in the Kennewick Man, a skeleton found in July 1996 near Kennewick, Washington. The federally recognized Umatilla Tribe, whose ancestral land he was found on, claimed him as an ancestor.

Archeologists, however, said the Kennewick Man’s age made the discovery scientifically valuable and they claimed there was insufficient evidence to connect him to the tribe.

New York state, meanwhile, does not recognize cultural affiliation for any bodies over 500 years old.

“Simple substitution will show the absurdity of this,” said Broadrose. “Based upon New York law, if I found the remains of a famous European, like Shakespeare, here, I would have the right to collect and study his bones and not be compelled to repatriate to Europeans. After all, Shakespeare wore different clothing, spoke a different variant of English, and had different material culture than Europeans today, therefore, he must not be European. That is the gist of the absurdity of cultural affiliation.”

New York also has no protections in place for burials that are not marked by stone monuments or demarcated in the Euro-American cemetery fashion.

“How is it that basic human rights that all other groups are afforded in the U.S., including

control over ancestral remains and graves, can be compromised or negotiated?”  Broadrose asked.


Punk rock inspiration

Broadrose began his dissertation with a question: “What really has changed since the 19th century?”

“The answer is that such differences are in appearance only, not in substance, as the words of the highly decorated, oft-cited troll faction of ‘Iroquoianist’ scholars has made clear,” he said. “The concern is with appearance and not content.”

What NAGPRA has demonstrated is that there is no systematic inventory of any removed human and cultural remains, he said. “Most remain unstudied, unsorted, and hidden away in offices, boxes, bags, or as personal curios in scholar’s offices and homes.”

“With no oversight, it is impossible to know the quantity of material taken from American Indians, though we know colonization and such dispossession went hand in hand, so we are talking about a theft of massive scale,” Broadrose said. “And we are just talking about those federally funded institutions and their lack of compliance in compiling the NAGPRA-mandated inventory. We have absolutely no idea the quantity of material that resides in private hands, collected from private lands, exchanged through private collectors.”

Calling it a dispossession of historic magnitude, he said, “In my opinion, [it] easily exceeds the theft of material wealth from Jews and others defined as inferior by the Nazis.”

His research challenges the prevailing notion from the 1980s that archaeologists were objective in reporting the past without inserting their own biases into interpretations. In the face of this critique, researchers now are required to choose a specific theoretical framework as a lens that allows them to mitigate their findings without the question of their profiting.

Broadrose’s theory chapter is titled “Punk Rock: The Destruction of the Spectacle.”

“I spent a lot of youthful time down in the city, jumping around and living the punk rock lifestyle,” he said. “I found some incredible intellectual heavyweights on street corners and makeshift stages, and in my research, I wanted to make clear: academics and scholars do not have a monopoly on complex thought.”

He found that scholars often have tunnel vision, a “me-first” attitude that contradicts their created discourse.

“The punks that I squatted with back in the early 80s, a mix of cast-offs, runaways, and urban Native Americans, understood the Potlatch paradigm,” he said. “In particular, I justified my deconstruction or critical destruction of troll narratives that disempower Indians by looking beyond the obvious — the fire burns, to the reality — the ground becomes fertile for new growth when the flame finishes its consumption.”

In this analogy, Broadrose is the fire.

“Punk rock is discordant and jarring,” he said. “My discourse is modeled after this, loudly interrupting. When the normative narrative is interrupted, the status quo types get agitated and oft times slip up and expose the sort of back stage talk indicative of power inequalities, and I sure wanted to expose that.”

In effect, Broadrose explained, NAGPRA and the scholars are saying, “Yes, we agree that your ancestral bodies and artifacts were removed without your consent, but even though all pre-1492 bodies and artifacts are by definition Indigenous, we still want to keep a bunch of stuff so we can continue our careers as experts on you and your people, and so we can continue receiving funding to measure, record, and pose your stuff to a paying public. So too we will define for you who you are related to and who you are not related to.”  

“Behind the scenes I may be marginalized, perhaps tenure or research funding will be denied by any of the 9,000-plus scholars who uncritically cited and accepted the work of troll faction members as fact,” he said.

The burden of proof is on the Native Americans to ask, he said, because otherwise they are dependent on the inventories that institutions which receive federal funding are legally required to compile.

“Few museums complied with NAGPRA, opting to foot drag and draw out the process,” he said. “Why have they not been inventoried? I am a proponent of Indians making surprise visits to anthropology departments and museums to see what might be found.  A box of what are clearly human remains in an unmarked box under the lab table of a biological anthropology classroom in a federally funded institute, is, in fact, a violation of NAGPRA and warrants further investigation.”

People of the Dirt: FBI Bust of Remains Collector Hints at Sensitivity to Native Issues

AP ImageIn this aerial photo taken from WTHR Chopper 13, FBI agents work around the home of 91-year-old Donald Miller in Waldron, Ind. on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Authorities seized thousands of Native American, Russian, Chinese and other artifacts that have "immeasurable" cultural value from Miller's private collection, the FBI said Wednesday. The items, which also came from Haiti, Australia, New Guinea and Peru, were collected by Miller over eight decades, FBI Special Agent Robert Jones said at a news conference.
AP Image
In this aerial photo taken from WTHR Chopper 13, FBI agents work around the home of 91-year-old Donald Miller in Waldron, Ind. on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Authorities seized thousands of Native American, Russian, Chinese and other artifacts that have “immeasurable” cultural value from Miller’s private collection, the FBI said Wednesday. The items, which also came from Haiti, Australia, New Guinea and Peru, were collected by Miller over eight decades, FBI Special Agent Robert Jones said at a news conference.


Part One

The recent discovery by the FBI of a giant horde of Native artifacts and remains held by Don Miller in Rush County, Indiana offers an opportunity to take a deeper look into the eccentric, obsessive and sometimes shadowy world of such collecting.

Miller, 91, has been well known by as a collector of Indian and other artifacts for years. His collection includes the remains of over 100 Native ancestors, according to tribal leaders consulted by the FBI in the case. Many of the remains are labeled with names that can be traced to Native families alive today. “He had a head with an arrowhead stuck in it, like a skull and all kinds of Indian artifacts from arrowheads to hatchets to peace pipes to just anything,” neighbor Joe Runnebohm told the Indianapolis Star.

According to Drew Northern, FBI Supervisory Special Agent, the agency is reaching out to Tribal Historic Preservation Officers for assistance in repatriating items and remains found at Miller’s home.  Within days of the find, the FBI coordinated a conference call and face-to-face meeting with THPO leaders at the Indianapolis office. “Building lasting relationships with tribes and repatriation is our goal,” Northern said.

Although early news reports described the FBI removal of the artifacts and remains from Miller’s home as a raid, later reports indicated that Miller is cooperating with authorities and had invited them into his home to take the items.

The exterior of Don Miller's home in Rush County, Indiana, where artifacts were found. (Pember)
The exterior of Don Miller’s home in Rush County, Indiana, where artifacts were found. (Pember)


Although Agent Northern would not discuss how Miller came to the attention of the FBI, it seems likely that the collector may have been trying to sell or donate his artifacts. According to the Greensburg Daily News, Miller recently offered his collection to the Rush County Historical Society.  Since the organization has limited space, leaders declined his offer.

Many of today’s natural history museums collections are based on donations from wealthy antiquarians wishing to leave personal legacies, says Christopher Moore, professor of Anthropology at the University of Indianpolis. “As colonial empires expanded in the 18th and 19th century, wealthy travelers would bring strange things back with them, often amassing huge collections that they displayed in their homes.”

This colonial practice continues today. Miller amassed his collection during 52 years of world travel as a missionary. He made no secret of his collection and frequently invited school groups and neighbors in to see his private museum, that included not only Native artifacts and remains but also cultural items from all over the world. A 1992 piece in the Indianapolis Star told the story of Miller and his personal museum.

Although some of the items in his collection may have been acquired illegally, no charges have been brought against Miller. Many of the artifacts were found by Miller during his travels, but he has so many items that it seems reasonable to assume he also bought or traded.

According to a Native artifacts dealer who asked to remain anonymous, Miller was a regular at artifact shows in the region.

Miller could not be reached for comment. Several prominent signs are currently posted along the property line of his Rush County home warning that trespassers will be prosecuted.

We may never learn complete details about Millers great horde and what drove him to amass it. His story, however, brings up tantalizing questions about those who are compelled to dig the earth in search of such treasures.

The subculture of artifact hunting, collecting, trading and selling spans an enormous spectrum from benign to bizarre, and involves a vast array of participants, from aging missionaries to meth heads.

Although the general public opinion regarding the legality and damage of digging for and collecting artifacts is slow to change, authorities are stepping up efforts to address this practice.

Bambi Kraus, President of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers describes the FBI’s handling of the Miller case as a sea change for the agency. “This has never happened before that I know of, “ she said of the FBI’s decision to bring in tribes at the beginning of such an investigation.

“It was worth all those years of urging people to work with Indian tribes,” said Kraus.

Ben Barnes, second chief of the Shawnee tribe of Oklahoma, drove to Indianapolis to participate in the tribal consultation meeting with the FBI. He was impressed by agents’ displays of respect and concern especially regarding remains.

“The agents have been very active in making sure the ancestors are being taken care of; they are treating them respectfully and storing them in a special place away from other evidence.”

Past FBI investigations and seizures of Native artifacts have not ended as well such as the 2009 case in Utah.

One of those arrested during what then Interior Secretary Ken Salazar described as the biggest bust of Native artifact thieves, committed suicide. Residents of the region were outraged over what they described as heavy-handed tactics used by the FBI and the Bureau of Land Management, whose officers bust into suspects homes armed and wearing flak jackets.

Agent Northern did not respond directly to questions regarding the impact of the Utah case on the FBI’s handling of this case. “Our goal is to be as transparent,” he said, “mindful and respectful as possible and try to learn from what hasn’t gone well in the past.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/05/08/people-dirt-fbi-bust-remains-collector-hints-sensitivity-native-issues-154778?page=0%2C1

Hopi Tribe loses bid to stop auction of sacred property in France

Source: Indianz.com

The Hopi Tribe of Arizona lost a bid to stop the auction of sacred property in France.

The Drouot auction house sold 32 masks today, the Associated Press reported, after a judge approved the sale. One item went for $136,000, the AP said.

The U.S. Embassy in Paris asked the auction house to delay the sale. The collection also included items from the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Zuni Pueblo.


Get the Story:
Auction House Ignores US Plea to Delay Hopi Sale (AP 12/9)
US attempts to halt Paris auction of sacred Native American artefacts (The Guardian 12/8)
French Court Allows Auction of Hopi Artifacts to Proceed (The New York Times 12/6)


Related Stories:
Hopi Tribe files suit to block auction of sacred property in France (12/3)

Puget Sound orcas circle ferry carrying artifacts

About a half-dozen orca whales swim and splash close to a small research vessel following the group near Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, as seen some miles away from Seattle. The whales were among about 20 or more, believed to be from the resident J and K pods, seen traveling through the passage Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Elaine Thompson, AP
About a half-dozen orca whales swim and splash close to a small research vessel following the group near Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, as seen some miles away from Seattle. The whales were among about 20 or more, believed to be from the resident J and K pods, seen traveling through the passage Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Elaine Thompson, AP

SEATTLE (AP) — A large pod of orcas swam around a Washington state ferry in an impressive display as it happened to be carrying tribal artifacts to a new museum at the ancestral home of Chief Seattle, and some people think it was more than a coincidence.

Killer whales have been thrilling whale watchers this week in Puget Sound, according to the Orca Network, which tracks sightings.

But they were especially exciting Tuesday when nearly three-dozen orcas surrounded the ferry from Seattle as it approached the terminal on Bainbridge Island. On board were officials from The Burke Museum in Seattle who were moving ancient artifacts to the Suquamish Museum.

The artifacts were dug up nearly 60 years ago from the site of the Old Man House, the winter village for the Suquamish tribe and home of Chief Sealth, also known as Chief Seattle. The Burke, a natural history museum on the University of Washington campus, is known for Northwest Coast and Alaska Native art.

Also on board the state ferry was Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman who happened to be returning from an unrelated event. As the ferry slowed near the terminal, it was surrounded by the orcas, Forsman said Wednesday.

“They were pretty happily splashing around, flipping their tails in the water,” he said. “We believe they were welcoming the artifacts home as they made their way back from Seattle, back to the reservation.”

The killer whales have been in Puget Sound feeding on a large run of chum salmon, he said.

“We believe the orcas took a little break from their fishing to swim by the ferry, to basically put a blessing on what we were on that day,” he said.

Forsman believes there’s a spiritual tie between the tribe and the orcas. “They are fishermen like we are,” he said.

It was an auspicious arrival for about 500 artifacts that The Burke Museum had held for nearly 60 years, Suquamish Museum Director Janet Smoak said.

They include tools, decorative items and bits of bone and rock that date back 2,000 years.

The Old Man House — the largest known longhouse on the Salish Sea — was located at Suquamish on the shore of Agate Passage, about 13 miles northwest of Seattle. Chief Sealth, for whom Seattle is named, is buried there.

The longhouse was burned down by the U.S. government in the late 1800s. The artifacts were collected by a University of Washington archaeological investigation in the 1950s, according to the Burke museum.

In 2012, the tribe completed its new museum, which includes a climate controlled environment. The artifacts will be displayed to illustrate Suquamish culture in an exhibit called Ancient Shores Changing Tides.

Everyone was talking about the orcas at the Tuesday museum blessing ceremony and feast, Smoak said.

“Everyone was really excited and moved by the event,” she said.

The orcas, identified from their markings as members of the J and K pods, were seen this week along several routes between the Seattle area and the west side of Puget Sound, according to Howard Garrett of the Orca Network at Freeland.

He thought their intersection with the ferry carrying tribal artifacts was uncanny.

“I can’t rule out somehow they could pick up on the mental energy that there is something special there. Or it could be a coincidence,” he said. “I don’t know.”

Grave robber’s loot

400 confiscated artifacts returned to Navajo

By Shondlin Silversmith, Navajo Times

(Times photo – Shondiin Silversmith)U.S. Army Corps of Engineer workers Julia Price, right, and Ron Kneebone, left, unload artifacts that were recovered from South Dakota.

(Times photo – Shondiin Silversmith)
U.S. Army Corps of Engineer workers Julia Price, right, and Ron Kneebone, left, unload artifacts that were recovered from South Dakota.

July 9 was a good day for the Navajo Nation. More than 400 artifacts that were stolen from Navajo land were finally returned.

The Navajo Nation coordinated with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers’ Omaha, Neb. District to have the stolen artifacts returned.

The individual responsible for the theft is Donald B. Yellow, who stole a total of 710 artifacts, with 425 of those items being from the Navajo Nation.

According to the USACE, the artifacts were found in central South Dakota when Yellow attempted to sell some of them.

“It was a pretty interesting case,” Julie Price, USACE program manager, said because she still doesn’t know how Yellow was able to transport the items from the Southwest to the middle of South Dakota.

The artifacts were taken from Lukachukai, Ariz., said Ronald Maldonado, supervisory archaeologist for the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department.

Maldonado said Yellow was a technician working for the Indian Health Service in Chinle when he found the items and collected them, some from a gravesite in the Chuskas. When he relocated to the Midwest, he allegedly took all his collection with him.

“It’s not a lot of stuff, but it belongs to the people, and it feels good to have it back where it belongs,” Maldonado said.

The artifacts include four grinding stones, a hand-grinding stone, a wooden weaving batton, five whole and partial pottery bowls, a bundle of cordage/rope, 381 pottery shards, 20 stone pieces, 11 stone tools and a corn cob.

“He took something from a Navajo burial. It’s part of the culture that’s being stolen, I don’t know whose grave they took this from but this was a Navajo burial,” Maldonado said, adding he can’t believe people would do that to sell the items for profit. “It’s good to see it returned back where it belongs, back to Navajo. It’s part of the culture, part of the history and people.”

During his trial almost two years ago, Yellow pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. He was sentenced on Oct. 11, 2011. The judge ordered that he be fined $618, pay restitution of $4,382, but no jail and no probation.

ARPA is an act set to “to secure, for the present and future benefit of the American people, the protection of archaeological resources and sites which are on public lands and Indian lands,” states language in the legislation.

Within the documents provided by Megan Maier, field archaeologist with the USACE Omaha District, “the forfeited artifacts were looted from both USACE-managed lands and Navajo tribal lands. This information was obtained through interviews between the arresting officer and Mr. Yellow. The judge ordered that all southwestern artifacts are to be returned to the Navajo Nation.”

“ARPA violations have hefty fines and restitution fees, so with the coordination between multiple agencies hopefully we’re making an impact on people that are destroying these types of items,” said Price.

“If feels very good to bring something back to its homeland where it’s supposed to be,” Price added, noting that this is normally a long, complicated process, but since Yellow admitted where he took the items from they were able to start returning the items after making contact with the Navajo Nation over a year ago.

“Everything went smoothly to bring them back to where they were stolen,” Price said, adding that it was nice being able to work with a tribe they’ve never visited before and return the artifacts to their homeland.

“It shows that sometimes the bad guys get caught and good things can come out of bad situations,” she said.

“The people that are looting and profiting off these artifacts are slowly learning a lesson,” Maier said. “If you are going to be profiting off someone else’s culture, you’re going to get caught.”