October 27, 2008

McCain didn't author NAGPRA

A good rebuttal to the arguments of Tim Giago and Deron Marquez that Natives should support McCain because of NAGPRA:

Suzan Shown Harjo:  Sen. Obama's words matter moreI read the opinion piece with great interest because it reached a wrong conclusion based on a misreading of repatriation history and McCain’s role. As one of the people who made and wrote repatriation history and law, I can say that there are hundreds of people who could lay a better claim than the senator to being one of NAGPRA’s authors. It’s interesting that McCain himself does not make this claim and does not include Native cultural rights laws in his policy statements.And:In the 1980s, we began negotiating a repatriation agreement with the Smithsonian Institution, which was prerequisite to the nationalization of the world class Indian collection and the making of the national Indian museum. I was director and spokesperson for the National Congress of American Indians and a trustee of the Museum of the American Indian in New York, with Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux), and N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa). In the mid-1980s, we involved Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who became the congressional champion for our repatriation and Indian museum campaigns.

Anti-repatriation scientists from Arizona and elsewhere slowed our momentum by having McCain insist that Indians take part in a national dialogue at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. I selected the Indian side of the national dialogue, which included Roger Buffalohead (Ponca), Oren Lyons (Onondaga) and other Native repatriators, who well remember it as the museums’ last-ditch effort to stop repatriation law and to insert “scientific rights” into our Native human rights law. We refer to it as McCain letting the anti-repatriation museums undermine certain aspects of repatriation law.

It is at the point of the national dialogue--more than 20 years after we began our work to achieve repatriation policy and museum reform and nearly 10 years after AIRFA--that Marquez fancies McCain airlifting NAGPRA to the Indians.
And:While we have had many successes, part of our coalition work has not been realized: a cause of action to protect all our sacred places. McCain would not support such legal protections in the early 1990s, when Inouye was championing the Native American Freedom of Religion Act. If McCain, at any point in his long congressional career, had championed his own sacred places right of action or gotten out of the way of others’ attempts, the Native peoples in his state and nationwide would not be facing the spiritual crises of today at San Francisco Peaks and elsewhere.

Instead, he and others in the Arizona delegation took targeted action against one sacred place in their state, when they secured space for a federally financed telescope project atop Mount Graham, an Apache holy mountain. All laws that could have given the Apache peoples a voice in the permitting process were waived through earmarks, which the senator so famously claims to eschew. These deeds may have something to do with the entire San Carlos Apache Tribal Council endorsing Obama over McCain for president.
Comment:  I didn't know NAGPRA's history, but it doesn't surprise me. In my voluminous readings on Indian Country, I don't recall McCain's name coming up often. As with NAGPRA, he's more of a supporter than a leader. Hundreds of Native organizations and individuals do the heavy lifting and then he co-sponsors the final legislation. After weakening it to protect his buddies in the white establishment (in this case, museums and universities).

For more on the subject, see Kennewick Man, Captain Picard, and Political Correctness and The 2008 Presidential Campaign.


Peter N. Jones said...

Yep, McCain had little to do with NAGPRA, if anything. I wrote about the history of NAGPRA to some extent in my book Respect for the Ancestors: American Indian Cultural Affiliation in the American West and McCain was never part of that history. The pivotal group was those that met at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

Anonymous said...

This is very helpful, thanks.