Besides working on NAGPRA projects, I take care of 4 cemeteries within our reservation. I was going to head out to one this morning, but a few phone calls and tasks kept me in the office until noon. Plus I had to be in my office at 3pm for an imporant conference call (Once I am out in the field, I can’t gurantee when I will return). One of the phone calls was with a museum about a possible repatriation. The remains are from an area in Michigan that is not as strongly documented as others, but we have what I call the “smoking gun” which is a historic period trade item. When forged metal is found with a burial, it’s a direct indicator the remains are from the contact period, thus enabling us to pinpoint a time period in which there is written record of Indian occupation in a certain area. This will be a joint claim with a few other tribes in Michigan. I should have this claim out sometime this fall.
In the picture is the other tools of my job in Cultural Preservation. Care taking for the dead is a long standing Anishnaabe belief and it has many forms. We have ghost suppers, or feast of the dead, every fall. These are one of the prominent activities/ceremonies in our area. In addition to the feast, we respect the burial grounds of our ancestors by keeping them clean and accessible to community members, who often decorate the graves of their family members. Crosses are a direct sign somebody is buried here, and that is important, because so many times burial grounds are disrespected. So, I replace crosses, paint them, mow grass and clean up dead trees. Many of these cemeteries are in rural, wooded areas. Trees die and fall. I have plenty of chainsaws to handle jobs of all shapes and sizes. Plus we cut alot of wood for other cultural activities. I really enjoy cutting wood. I have to say an Odawa friend of mine took time to cut all the crosses from 2x4s and put them together. There is an underlying understanding that the Anishnaabe dead are our dead, and we need to take care of them.
Some of my friends joke that I have a slightly morbid job, working around dead people, either getting them back or working in a cemetery. But everybody I have talked to, your average working people, and they agree remains should be returned and reburied, regardless of race or ethnic background. I think of it as a blessing to be able to be in a position to help my people who have walked on. It’s sad to think of all the other dead who’s descendants are not helping them, but for now, I can only concentrate on my ancestors.