Thursday, April 17, 2008

When PC, Politics, and University Research Collide

The Detroit News: Tribe demands U-M hand over remains

The Chippewa tribe is demanding that the University of Michigan's Anthropology Department turn over ancient burial objects to the tribe.

One problem with his demand for ownership is that the artifacts predate the Chippewa's arrival in Michigan by hundreds of years:
At issue in this dispute is that the law also allows universities to retain possession if the remains and objects are considered "culturally unidentifiable" -- items that cannot be linked to an existing, federally recognized tribe. U-M's anthropologists believe that applies to most of its Michigan-found collections.

"It goes back to a period when, really, the federally recognized tribes as we know them in the Great Lakes didn't really exist as such prehistorically," said John O'Shea, curator at U-M's Museum of Anthropology. "And that makes the problem even more complicated."

The Chippewa, for instance, didn't move south and west into Michigan until the 1600s, O'Shea said. That would put them in the state hundreds of years after the remains and objects were buried by Native populations at the contested sites in Macomb, Lapeer and Saginaw counties.
This is simply silly. A claim from Shannon Martin of the tribe is one that thankfully is a not yet
legally accepted -- view of the ties between ancient remains and present-day Native Americans. "It's Michigan. We're all related."
This argument is laughable on its face. Under that view, I've got a good claim to all the Chippewa artifacts, not to mention a share of their casino operations -- after all, It's Michigan, we're all related. I somehow don't think they'll accept that at face value. Nor should the U of M accept their statement.

That really has no scientific or cultural basis as an argument. The artifacts are useful for study and learning about these prehistoric cultures, to have them returned under such a tenuous claim would undermine historical collections everywhere and lead to far less knowledge while supporting a politically correct but historically wrong argument. To allow any Indian group to claim that artifacts that predate their tribal existence are theirs and belong to the spirits of their tribe is ridiculous.

As noted in the Detroit News, the curator of the American Museum
of Natural History in New York City, explained the controversy quite simply:

"It's about power and control of the past and who gets to tell the story of the past" he said.

No comments: