The Lincoln Journal Star
Cal Thunder Hawk
Even in death, humans not property
Saturday, October 30, 1999
BY CAL THUNDER HAWK
Historically the perception of who is, and who is not, a human being here in America has been arbitrarily defined by a political process that has served the passions of the prevailing powerful interests. Nothing so clearly illustrates this point as the paradoxical process of unilaterally converting property into human beings and converting human beings into property. At one time it was legal in the United States to enslave, sell, buy, and own human beings of African American descent. Contemporary African Americans insist that their ancestors, despite their enslavement, were human beings. Contemporary Native Americans insist that our ancestors were human beings, too. The humanity that we claim for ourselves is a timeless status that extends into our future as well as into our past and, thus, is not bound by arbitrary limitations imposed by either time or state. Western science has perceived our claim to the common heritage of mankind as a challenge to engage with them in an ideological conflict over their theft of our dead from their graves.
Ironically, Western scientists complain of the laws that have placed constraints upon their unrestricted excavation of Native American graves and their theft of the human remains of our ancestors from those graves. However, this very legislation was necessitated only after repeated attempts to get them to resolve these disputes with Native Americans had failed. But the arguments that the Western scientists make in defense of their conduct range from one side of the broad political spectrum, represented by the patently racist propaganda associated with the popular era of European Fascism, to the other side of the spectrum where elegantly conceited philosophical treatises say very little if anything at all. One can only infer that their motives for having so cleverly contrived and waged this public relations campaign has been to conceal a form of pathological narcissism that compels them to use the persuasive rhetoric of science to disguise this peculiar self-absorption that they have about themselves and their obsession for desecrating the dead. It is like a hot air balloon that inflates – filled with a sense of the vindication that they feel each time we rebuke them – as it slowly rises above the blurred terrain where their bizarre opinions exist in isolation, just on the other side of the boundary that separates fact from opinion.
The consensus in Native America is that the moral judgement of Western scientists has been compromised by the corrupt notions of property that have preceded them and that it is these distorted notions that are responsible for this perversion in their development. However, they are viewed by Native Americans as possessing the capacity to convert their abstract observations of universal truths into a reality independent of perception but unwilling to do so because of their personal economic interests in maintaining the status quo however ethically indefensible this position may be and regardless of the impact that these consequences may have upon the subjects that they perceive as not only vulnerable to this form of exploitation but equally powerless to escape from it. Unfortunately, this situation isn't a recent phenomenon of rogue scholars and pot hunters, but has developed into a philosophical position that has been incorporated into the very foundations of long standing professional archeological organizations. As an example, membership in a private professional archeological organization based in California currently demands that its members support a policy that requires the expulsion, from the profession of archeology, of an archeologist who participates in "knowing acts of destruction of archaeological materials (or complicity in such acts) [sic] as grounds for expulsion from the profession of archaeology." One has to dig around their Internet site to discover the real meaning of that particular statement which refers to the destruction of archeological materials, for they clarify it only further on: "given up for destruction by reburial." Thus, at least in so far as this particular organization is concerned, Native American human remains are considered the property of scientific collections, and returning the stolen human remains of our ancestors back into their graves is considered destruction of this property.
This trend is disturbing because it creates a professional and academic milieu that is openly hostile to archeologists who comply with the return and reburial of Native American human remains even when this compliance is required by law.
Who has the right to determine whether or not human beings are property? Do we really need to go through this again in America?
We are determined to resolve this matter. It's an issue that won't go away until it is settled forever because our goal, as Native Americans, is to realize our destiny as human beings. An objective in reaching this goal is the abolition of the property status of Native American human remains. Of all the injustices that must be overcome, let's start there: Abolish the property status of Native American human remains. Like it or not, we are participants in a destiny that demands we repudiate the historical processes that have destroyed our right to the dignity that the status of humanity endows within each of us. We extend the universal recognition of this right to you because, as a fellow human being, you deserve to have your rights respected and your dignity affirmed.
Cal Thunder Hawk, a Rosebud Sioux, is author of "Lesson of the Feather" published by Tipi Press, Chamberlain, SD