June 18, 2009

Natives against artifact thieves

Native Americans Speak Out Against Four Corners Artifact Thefts

By Tim CiescoAs the investigation into the nation's largest ever theft of archeological objects moves forward, local Native American tribes are speaking out against what the alleged thieves did and and are providing insight into what artifacts mean to their people.

Roland McCook is a member of the Uncompahgre Ute Tribe here in Western Colorado. He says for the Utes and many other tribes across the West, objects like pottery, headdresses, and other traditional art take on special meaning.

"These were hand made specifically for a certain purpose and maybe they were left out there on purpose," said McCook. "Most of them are made so they could survive."

So when he learned that a group of 24 people from Colorado and Utah was stealing artifacts from the Four Corners region and selling them illegally, he says he was deeply offended.
And:But even if the Anasazis and other tribes who live in the Four Corners area get their artifacts back, McCook says so much has already been lost. He says many tribes put power into their artifacts and believe they contain spirits that serve important purposes for the people.

"What do you do after those spirits have been discovered and released back into the atmosphere?" said McCook. "Perhaps they weren't meant to be there."
A comment from a Native woman named Wazi received via e-mail:The people of Blanding seem to be put out that some of their residents have been caught robbing Native American gravesites, etc.--they just refuse to understand those places are sacred, as sacred as THEIR cemeteries, mausoleums, churches. Would they be upset if we decided to raid them, dig them up, steal what has been buried or placed in them? Wonder how they would feel if we stole and sold their revered ancestors' bones, "sacred treasures," jewelry, etc. on eBay or elsewhere?Comment:  There are no Indians called "the Anasazis" who live (present tense) in the Four Corners area. But their descendants live in the area as members of various Pueblo tribes. I think we know what McCook means despite his terminology.

Blanding's people claim they didn't rob any graves. They just "innocently" picked up artifacts they found lying on the ground. But I think we know what Wazi means too.

It's good to finally get a Native perspective on this issue. McCook makes some points that aren't obvious to non-Natives (including me). One, Indians may have placed artifacts in certain positions for a reason. Two, artifacts may have a spirit or spirits associated with them.

In other words, an object doesn't have to be on an altar or in a museum for Indians to consider it special. Removing such objects may be similar to robbing a church, tomb, or other revered place even if it isn't exactly the same.

And let's not forget the more obvious cultural offense: robbing Indians and the rest of us of America's history. Every artifact is a clue to the past, and every theft helps erase that past. Indians are invisible in our society precisely because Americans have taken away their lands and cultures.

For more on the subject, see:

Stupid graverobber tricks
Indiana Jones, tomb raider
Yale to return stolen artifacts

Below:  "I don't see any name tag on this artifact. Therefore, it's mine if I take it."

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