Thursday, May 8, 2008

Culturally Unidentified Human Remains, Indigenous Native American Peoples, and the Society for American Archaeology

In the March 2008 SAA Archaeological Record, an article by Keith W. Kintigh clearly articulated the Society for American Archaeology’s position concerning the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Usually such an article would mean little for indigenous peoples as the Record is primarily concerned with the field of archaeology – its methods, theories, and practice – then with the concerns of indigenous peoples or how archaeology impacts them. However, in this article Kintigh, former president of SAA and past chair of the Task Force on Reburial, discusses the Society’s position in terms of repatriation – especially the repatriation of unidentified human remains. This is the same category that the Ancient One (also known as the Kennewick Man) and many other ancient Native American human remains currently reside in.

A lot of talk, and several important books, have been written on the topic of repatriation, human remains, and their biological and cultural affiliation. Much of it has cast a negative light on the SAA and archaeologists, despite the fact that archaeologists and Native American tribes have been working collaboratively for several years across numerous projects.

In order, therefore, to help clear the picture up and to facilitate the continued dialogue between indigenous Native American peoples and archaeology, I have quoted the major points below from this article.

"The fundamental principle guiding all of SAA’s repatriation actions has not been, as critics would have it, to minimize repatriation, but instead to achieve the balance of traditional cultural interests and scientific interests that is at the core of SAA’s long-held policy (SAA Statement on the Treatment of Human Remains) that helped shape NAGPRA. More specifically, SAA’s position has been that the goal of NAGPRA is not repatriation, it is to codify the legal rights of reasonably closely related Native American groups to determine the disposition (which may or may not be repatriation) of the remains of their ancestors."

"SAA began submitting formal comments in 1995 and has done so on numerous occasions since then, by way of written statements to the NAGPRA Review Committee, through on-the-record comments at Review Committee meetings by authorized SAA representatives, and in the context of meetings and conversations with agency officials on both formal and unpublished draft rules. A review of this record shows a clear pattern of constructive comments directed toward balance and improving the recommendations."

Minutes of the NAGPRA Review Committee Meetings are available at the National Park Service NAGPRA site.

"The Review Committee spent more then six years developing a set of recommendations with regard to the disposition of cultural unidentified human remains. As noted in the SAA statement and comments, the proposed rule plainly does not reflect the balance contained in the NAGPRA Review Committee’s final “Principles of Agreement” on this issue. Indeed, in its most recent meeting the NAGPRA Review Committee, which has strong Native American representation, unanimously approved a motion expressing concern about the divergence of the proposed rule from its recommended Principles and seeking more time for comment and discussion of the issue."

It is apparent that much of the slandering towards archaeologists and indigenous peoples stems from the actions of a few - not the many. American archaeologists are working to protect the method of science, while at the same time becoming increasingly aware of the human aspect of their field and its impacts on living populations. Although the history of NAGPRA is full of contentions, I am glad to see the SAA attempt to recognize the importance of indigenous peoples voices - in this case Native Americans - when it comes to the repatriation of skeletons and human ancestors. What needs to happen now is further dialogues about what is culturally identifiable in terms of human remains, so that we can continue to repatriate indigenous Native American ancestors to their rightful resting place.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

April 22 - May 5, 2008: Five Key Indigenous People's Issues

Five Important Indigenous People's Issues for the Week of April 22 - May 5, 2008

Indigenous Ainu People to Press Demands at G8 Summit

Japan's hosting of the G8 summit in Hokkaido in July will afford a rare opportunity for the Ainu people who live on the island to press their long-standing demand to be recognized as an indigenous people.

Officially, for the Jul 7-9 summit of rich nations, Japan’s leaders have said they would like to see global health high on the agenda as also sustainable forest development, climate change and development.

But the Ainu have other plans to roll out in Hokkaido at the Jul 1-4 Indigenous Peoples Summit, ahead of the G8 event. "If the government recognizes the Ainu as indigenous people everything would change," said Saki Mina, an Ainu leader, at a press conference here last week.

There are about 200,000 Ainu living throughout Japan though most are concentrated in the northern island of Hokkaido. Ainu were once thought of as the remnants of a Caucasoid group but this is yet to be proved. Read the rest of the story here....

United Nations Asked to Probe Plight of Pacific's Indigenous Peoples

Representatives of various indigenous groups in the Pacific region have asked a United Nations panel to sponsor seminars and visiting missions that would look into the rights and situations of the natives of colonized territories, whose environments are said to have been exploited by "foreign superpowers."

Environmental destructions through toxic waste dumping, mining and deforestation were among the top issues tackled by indigenous peoples in the Pacific region at the Seventh Session of the United Nation's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York.

Michael Dodson, member of the permanent forum, said indigenous lands and waters were being targeted by industrialized nations for dumping of toxic or radioactive wastes from industrial or military operations, often without informing residents of dangers. Read the rest of the story here....

Indigenous People's Hunger Strikers in Mexico Released from Prisons

After years of asserting their innocence, a group of indigenous Zapatista advocates are free, for now.

The Mexican government released 149 political prisoners in the first two weeks of April, including 37 hunger strikers, almost all of whom were indigenous people from Chiapas who had been alleging they were the victims of torture, false imprisonment for political reasons, and other abuses. Another 20 prisoners are still incarcerated in Chiapas and Tabasco, but activists have not relented in their efforts, as further abuses in and outside the prisons are coming to light.

The vast majority of the freed prisoners was indigenous activists, and had been imprisoned at some point between 1994 and 2006. They were involved with social change groups such as the Zapatista Other Campaign, the Independent Agricultural Worker and Campesino Center (CIOAC in Spanish) and the Pueblo Creyente (Believing People), a group of indigenous Catholics active in social justice issues. Most of the freed men were from the Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal or Chole communities in the Chiapas region. Among the leaders who first came out were Zacario Hernandez, Enrique Hernandez, Pascual Heredia Hernandez, Jose Luis Lopez Sanchez, Ramon Guardaz Cruz and Antonio Diaz Ruiz. Read the rest of the story here....

Hearings of Proposed Tipaimukh Dam Available: Indigenous Peoples Resource

Tipaimukh Dam Public Hearings from 2004 till 2008.

The month of March 2008 events two public hearings for proposed Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, one at Tipaimukh dam site, Churachandpur District on 31 March 2008 and another at Keimai village, Tamenglong District, Manipur on 26th March 2008, both organized by the Manipur Pollution Control Board. The public hearing at Keimai village registered extraordinary support from the Assam Rifles and the Border Security Forces camps nearby and slaughtering of pigs for handpicked participants by project proponents in both hearings. The first public hearing on Tipaimukh dam project at Darlawn Community Hall, Darlawn, Mizoram on 2 December 2004 was severely criticized for its lack of transparency of the project proponent, North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) and failure to provide vital documents, including Detailed Project Report, Environment Impact Assessment etc.

The Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project, to be constructed 500 Metres downstream from the confluence of Barak and Tuivai rivers, in South-western corner of Manipur over Barak river, with firm generation capacity of 401.25MW, has been one of the most controversial mega developmental projects in Manipur. While the project proponents, the Government of India and Manipur and NEEPCO hailed the project as bearing immense potentials and economic benefits, several issues remained unresolved, primarily the insensitive attitude of the Government and the project proponents to the legitimate concerns of the project affected villagers in the upstream and downstream portion of the Barak River. Find the resource here....

Indigenous People's Voices Demand Climate Justice

In the massive half-moon shaped United Nations conference auditorium filled with hundreds of individuals robed in colorful traditional clothing, jewerly and ceremonial items, a young female’s voice echoes from the center of the room.

“We indigenous peoples are emphatic in stating that those primarily responsible for climate change are the governments and companies of the industrialized world,” said Edith Bastidas, executive director of the Centro de Cooperación al Indígena in Bolivia, during a day of testimonies April 22. “[They] are encouraging a production and consumption model that is destroying the biodiversity and natural resources of our Mother Earth.” Catch the rest of the story here....

Last weeks Five Key Indigenous People's Issues can be found here.

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