February 19, 2009

Apaches don't want Geronimo moved

Apache tribes disagree on chief's remainsA descendant tribe to that of Geronimo's 19th century tribal band may protest an attempt to repatriate the legendary American Indian's remains to New Mexico.

Jeff Houser, chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, said he's upset his tribe wasn't consulted by Harlyn Geronimo, the warrior's great-grandson, before he announced a lawsuit seeking to return the remains to the Gila Wilderness.

Houser said moving the remains would be desecration.

"He's buried in a tribal cemetery, and we're a successor tribe to the Chiricahua tribe, of which he was a member," he said. "We don't believe Geronimo's remains should be disturbed."
Lawsuit Renews Mystery of Geronimo's SkullHarlyn Geronimo wants permission to remove the remains "from the location or locations where they are found" to his great-grandfather's "native land," at the headwaters of the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico. And he wants the area renamed the Geronimo Apache Native Lands Preserve.

But Jeff Houser, chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, doesn't think that Harlyn Geronimo is going about this correctly.

"If his goal is to get the remains, he can file a claim with the federal government. If his goal is to also gain attention, he can file a lawsuit on the 100th anniversary of Geronimo's death," Houser said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The tribe's position, said Houser, is that it doesn't believe Geronimo's grave was disturbed, and it doesn't want the grave "desecrated" in an attempt to find out.

"This is an active cemetery," he said. "We still bury tribal members and descendants of prisoners of war there."

Towana Spivey, curator of the Fort Sill Museum, said that in his years of research on the subject, he's never been able to find any reports or other references to an act of vandalism at Geronimo's gravesite.

"There has been a great deal of publicity referring to the desecration of Geronimo's grave, but no evidence of such ever occurring. In my opinion, the desecration referred to in numerous news stories over the years simply did not occur. All available evidence gathered by my predecessors and myself over the last 90 years does not support the popular folk stories about incursions into Geronimo's grave," Spivey said.

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