More Grave Protection

Not much blogging lately, things have been ultra busy. And I thought this summer was going to be laid back! Nope. One project that just came up is the issue of a cemetery here in Emmet County. The cemetery is very historic, the site and burials pre date European arrival. A large Church is there now, along with a historic cemetery, with all Odawa buried there. The “caretaker” a summer resident, has decided to cut down a bunch of trees in the cemetery, dig a trench for cable and put in a drain field, without notifying the tribe. When I asked why he didn’t contact us (the church owns the property, but the tribe does all the grounds keeping, this caretaker only does up keep on the church itself). He replied “I didn’t think the tribe needed to know”.

All of this disturbing work and it was decided by one person we were on a need to know basis. Needless to say I was angry, frustrated and yet, not surprised. We try to protect graves from disturbance of any sort. Now we have to go to the church and figure out what is going on.

Hurry up and wait

There hasn’t been much going on in the way of repatriation in the last few weeks. We have claims out, but as is the case many times, we are waiting for confirmation on these claims. Committees have to meet at museums, professors go on sabbatical and people take vacations. So we wait until they get back. There is a 90 day stipulation in NAGPRA, and once a repatriation is to occur, it is suppose to happen in the timeliest manner possible. But that’s once a museum has agreed to return something, it’s getting to that decision that takes so much time.

But there is plenty to do in the mean time. Community outreach has really taken off under my new department. Local groups, mainly non Indian, bring us in to to presentations and lectures more and more. This has alot to do with our successful repatriation program. I want to add more success to our program by having more ancestors come back, but just takes so much time! Coordinating between museums and tribes is a full time job. Sometimes tribes don’t see eye to eye on things, as well as tribes and museums. It can be a constant balancing act.


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.

One the Road Again

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.

How items leave

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.