Scientists Form Pasty-skinned Human Chain Around Unaffiliated Native American Remains

Josh Clark

Did you know there's still a Bureau of Indian Affairs in the United States and that it's active and it's still called the Bureau of Indian Affairs? It's true. The BIA is currently led by a member of the Pawnee tribe named Larry Echo Hawk, who serves as the Assistant Secretary, reporting directly to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. Mr. Echo Hawk is the former Attorney General of Idaho, a former Brigham Young law professor, Marine and a respectable safety who led his BYU team in interceptions during the 1968 season.

All of this may be helpful information. If you've always wanted a full or partially-complete human skeleton of unknown origin, then you should contact Mr. Echo Hawk and let him know you're a BYU fan.

Science Insider reports that the Department of the Interior has issued an updated rule to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, created in 1990 under the purview of George Bush, the first, who found the longstanding European descendants' tradition of robbing cultural and human artifacts from Native American distasteful. In addition to stiff penalties for being caught with filched totem poles, NAGPRA also issued a decree that institutions in the business of graverobbing must compile lists of all of the remains in their possession and to create a special column for remains that can't be reasonably contextually associated with a particular culture. But that's all they had to do.

With the recent amended rule that went into effect on May 14, those culturally unaffiliated remains must be returned to any group that holds ancestral land near the site where the remains were uncovered -- or anyone who can convince the Department of the Interior that they have a right to those bones.

There is a strange and unwarranted backlash afoot toward science and intellectualism in general; and here's an example of why. In response to the new NAGPRA rule, 41 prominent archaeologists and anthropologists signed a petition calling for the feds to revoke the rule, citing concerns like the possibility that the remains people of European, Asian and African descent may end up buried as Native Americans. They kind of sidestep mentioning the current whereabouts of those same remains: in drawers.

Not to worry anyway, says the DOI; the statute only applies to the remains of people identified as Native Americans but without a cultural affiliation, so don't worry about Sven. Okay then, say researchers, this new rule will be "an incalculable loss to science." No it won't, says the DOI, you guys can keep all the culturally-affiliated remains you can lay your hands on. Those are the ones that are scientifically valuable anyway. The others are just bones.

This is as far as it's gone, though I'm certain it's not the end of the dispute. Archaeologists have a history of being, shall we say, reluctant when it comes to returning artifacts they have rightly pillaged. Even ones they don't have any use for.

Hey check out SYSK on Facebook and Twitter. What's the hold up?