July has the potential to be the craziest month. There are repartition claims out, two museum exhibits due by August, a power point presentation for the National Park Service about Odawa trade routes in the Great Lakes and the daily duties of my job, such as Sec. 106 replies and cemetery maintenance. I had to cancel being a camp counselor for a cultural camp in July because of this hectic work load. On the bright side, once July is done, Emmet County will have two wonderful exhibits telling the story of the Odawa here in northern Michigan and NPS will know why it is important to have the tribes at the table when discussing history in the Great Lakes.
On top of this, I just got back from 8 days of work travel, the Review Committee Meeting and the World archeological Congress. I am a tad burned out right now, hence no blogging. A long holiday week end is in order, recharge my batteries and start fresh next week.
There was a little lull in the work travel, but that’s about to end. For the next week, it’s a meeting in New York, immediately followed up by a conference in Indiana. The meeting is the NAGPRA Review Committee meeting and the conference is the World archeological Congress. These two important events slightly overlap. I am presenting at the WAC on Saturday, something I am very much looking forward to. I am talking about the negative effects archeology has had on tribes. In addition to my not so happy talk, I am fortunate enough to have two wonderful women presenting with me, about the more positive aspects of archeology and repatriation. So, we start from bad and finish on a positive note.
The Review Committee is all business. I am mid term on my appointment and it has taken me this long to feel comfortable sitting on the committee. The first meeting I was all nerves and the second wasn’t much better. The RC has taken some hits lately with a GAO audit, which doesn’t help. But I have to remember my role on the committee and that’s to represent the traditional Indians and make sure their voice is heard. So much is lost in the law aspect and the human aspect gets set aside.
We are working with a local museum on an exhibit to tell the struggle of the Odawa during the 20th century. This was a hard time for Indians all over the country, and my tribe was no exception. Many items were alienated from the community during the early 20th century. People were having immense pressure from the church to convert and families were dealing with the realization of starving families. During these hard times, unethical collectors took advantage of these circumstances. One such individual was named Albert Green Heath. Green operated in the entire mid west but in particular, the Great Lakes and n. Michigan. Stories pass down from my elders about this Heath, who would visit families experiencing economic hardships. After repeated visits offering to buy items, some families broke down. It was a dark time for us, but we are getting those items back, under NAGPRA.
Many tribes have their own Heath. One man responsible for acquiring thousands of items, many times, under duress. Some willingly sold items, but than there is the question, “did that person have the right to sell that item?” Many times, no.
The coming spring means cleaning the office! Sec. 106s pile up quickly, along with a whole slew of other paperwork. Before things get out of hand, time to organize. We have 2 museum exhibits we are working on at the moment, both in Petoskey, both due to open early August, in conjunction with our repatriation claims. One of the exhibits we are working on is LTBB Odawa during the 20th century. I am really excited about this exhibit, as it tells a little know, but very important, story about the Odawa in Northern Michigan. It centers around the struggle for the Odawa to maintain their identity and a place in Emmet County during some very tough times, both economically and socially.
One of the exhibits will deal with repatriation. The story will be about a kettle that was dug up from a Odawa grave in the 20s, sold to a museum and the kettle finally being repatriated to LTBB under NAGPRA is 2008. The story will show how Indians were openly discriminated and treated poorly, but in the end, things turned for the better and our rights were recognized.
Today I had a field trip with my local historical commission to a museum in n. Michigan. The museum had probably the best collection of French era Great Lakes trade items I have ever seen. Muskets from the late 1600s, tools, tomahawks and of course, trade silver. I immediately recognized many items as having the high possibility of being grave goods. We have repatriated the exact same items, with records documenting them being from graves. I am sure many of the items I was looking at today were from either Odawa, Huron or Ojibway burials. But, there was nothing I could do, the museum does not receive federal funds, therefore, NAGPRA does not comply and the tribes can not pursue items under the law. Sure, the museum could give the items that are funerary objects over to the tribe for reburial, but probably not. They might not know they are burial items to be begin with.
The collection use to be in the ownership of one, sole collector. This man, like many others, made it is life’s work to acquire as many Indian artifacts as possible. But this collector went way beyond Indian and had French, English and early American items. A rifle and revolver from the civil war, sitting next to a 100yr old cradle board? Who the hell has this! Only somebody with deep pockets many years ago.
I never thought I would be excited about a box full of viles and wipes, but I am! We got our testing materials in the other day and now we can test some of the items we have had repatriated for contamination. The process is simple, we swab the item, send it back to the lab and they give us the readings. No travel, no transporting of the items. I am fairly certain some of the items have some harmful chemicals on them, due to how good of condition they are in for their age. Plus, one of the museums has had issues with other items having high levels of arsenic, it’s possible there may be some cross contamination going on.
So, once an item is back, it’s not a give it is safe to handle, let alone use, or rebury. This is yet one more step in the repatriation process. It is nice to have this finally happening and have something positive. We have had a string of negative situations occur but we are coming out of them. You can’t let a few people stop progress. repatriation hinges so much on grinding away, continually moving forward.
I had an interview with a journalist who is doing a piece about Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway spent some of his childhood years in Emmet County, during the 1920s. The guy asked what was going on with the Odawa during those years, and it was hard to give him a positive picture. Poverty was rampant, as was discrimination. The boarding schools were in full effect and come to think of it, this was a time when many of the remains I see in museum inventories came out of the ground. Looting of graves, both professional and amateur, was not only tolerated, it was encouraged. Local papers would advertise tourist trips to “authentic indian burial grounds” where one could find “relics” and “trophies”. The burials were authentic all right, but the relics and trophies were usually Odawa skulls and their burial items. This is what was going on during Hemingway’s time in northern Michigan.