Ancient burial site – Outline
Native Americans have been oppressed over the last four centuries by the European colonists coming to rob the new continent of its riches. The settlers have come up with various schemes in order to motivate their actions.
Unlike the European society, the Native American one functioned according to different principles, and, they paid great importance to seemingly simple matters. While almost all people are respectful to their deceased ones and to their cemeteries, Native American people are obsessed with the connection between them and the spirits of their ancestors. Moreover, the Native American cemeteries are believed to hold a special place in the lives of the natives.
Subsequent to their coming on the American continent, Europeans have come to the conclusion that the natives had been sub-humans, and, thus, the Native American population had been pushed back to the heart of the continent in reservations, with their lands and their cemeteries being desecrated. There is virtually nothing that someone can do to compensate for the suffering undergone by the Native American population during the last few centuries.
A Native American tribe is currently struggling to get the government to shut down the activity to a dam that apparently holds water over an ancient burial site that belongs to the tribe. The authorities are being presented with an ethical dilemma, since they are aware of the fact that if they decide to comply with the tribe’s demands they will risk a major flood and a serious loss of electrical power.
Logics cannot be brought into the matter, since it is barely impossible for someone from the outside to understand the importance that a burial site has for Native Americans. While most people believe that it is almost impossible to agree with the tribe’s cause, little people actually think about the torment through which the Native Americans have been put through during the last few centuries. Moreover, this might turn into a fight between the 1950 office and the present day one, as the former could have paid more attention to the consequences that the building of a dam would have on the Native American reservation and on the surrounding area.
This case is not particular, as it seems that the authorities have previously dealt with similar problems. In spite of the fact that there have been similar such cases, none of them have dealt with an ethical dilemma. The authorities have been reported to both collaborate and work against Native American tribes fighting for their rights.
It seems that there is no other solution for the government than to grant the tribe its land back and to have the dam reservoir holding in a lesser amount of water. Of course, such an action would have devastating impacts both on the area next to the dam and to the dam’s capability of providing its residents with electricity.
The fact that it is possible for the people building the dam to have been unaware by the fact that their actions would disturb a sacred burial site is not relevant in the present problem, as this would only mean that the dam’s construction team was only interested in building the dam, without paying attention to the damage that the surrounding area would undergo.
The fate of the Native American population has been sealed from the time when the early European colonists had arrived on the American continent. Native Americans have been robbed of their most valuable possessions at the time that the Europeans came and took their lands away from them, since lands had been a vital element in their society. In their expansion across the American territory, the settlers did not pay attention to whether or not the lands that they took over had been previously occupied by someone else’s. The Native Americans had been considered to be savages, and, with acts such as the Manifest Destiny, it became almost impossible for them to avoid being deprived of their lands.
Native Americans have always considered certain matters to be of great importance when concerning the well-being of their society. American Indians believe in spirits, and, they believe that when one of their tribe members perishes, his or her spirit lives on. Moreover, natives pay great attention to the burial places of those departed, as the fact that they decided the deceased to be buried in a certain place attributes the respective place with a divine feature.
It is of no surprise that Native Americans treat their cemeteries with great care and respect. Generally, all cultures are known to behave similarly and to owe reverence to their late acquaintances.
For thousands of years the American Indians have been at one with nature and the divine, only to be subjected to unimaginable torment by the insatiable settlers. The way in which the Europeans behaved subsequent to their arrival on the American continent proved that the European society of the time had been more interested in profits than in the benefit of other human beings.
Because settlers considered the natives to be sub-human, they did not believe them worthy of keeping their territories. Thus, natives were relocated and the lands that had formerly belonged to them were treated with little to no care by white people. The burial places were not considered to be different from any other territories, and, consequently, they were exploited insensitively.
It would appear that people have gradually changed their attitudes and that the white people in America have left discrimination behind sometime during the twentieth century. The American Constitution is frequently addressed to by people demanding for their rights to be respected, and, Native Americans have taken advantage of it to ask for equal treatment from the U.S. government. The U.S. is now the land of all possibilities, where people seemingly receive credit depending on their merits, and not on their backgrounds.
In spite of the fact that the relationship between the whites and the natives had bettered with the passing of time, there is little that someone can actually do in order to bring back the honor and the cultural values lost by the natives during the last centuries. The twentieth century has definitely brought a lot of change in the lives of Native Americans, with the American government having granted them a series of privileges. The Native American population had been recognized as being equal to white people, and, apparently, their rights had been supposed to be respected accordingly. However, various occurrences have shown that in certain occasions profits are being put before human rights. Moreover, just when natives felt that they could relax and enjoy their culture and traditions without any obstructions, diverse influential figures interfered and made it clear that justice can only exist if it does not hold back profits from being gained.
Dams are generally considered to be beneficial for the area where they are built in, since they can prevent floods and are important sources of electric energy. Every year, water is being released from a dam in order for it to have enough capacity to hold water coming from snow melt.
A dam built somewhere between the 1950s and the 1960s has been reported of holding water on top of an ancient Native American site. The alarm has been triggered by a nearby tribe that claims to have discovered the burial site consequent to the releasing of water from the dam. Since natives put great price on their ancient burial sites, the tribe has immediately requested for the site to be protected so that water does not destroy it. Anthropologists have agreed that the site is, in fact, an ancient cemetery, but, they cannot determine whether or not it belongs to the tribe presently claiming it.
The authorities have basically come to an ethical dilemma, since they would normally have to risk having a flood and an important loss of energy in the area for the native tribe to get their territory back. Having been ignored and humiliated for centuries, the natives are clearly determined to fight for their rights. On the other side, any sane person would come to the conclusion that the ancient burial site is of lesser importance than the dam and the benefits provided by it. Furthermore, there is a possibility for the very native reservation to be threatened by the releasing of the water in the dam.
All things considered, it would only be logical for the authorities to ignore the demands made by the native tribe. However, if they would do so, they would only continue a history of Native American oppression. The matter requires careful analysis in order for a conclusion to be made. Legality comes in divergence with logics in this topic, as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) “protects burial sites on federal and tribal lands and creates a process for repatriating cultural items, including artifacts and human remains, to native tribes.” (Bocek Barb) Consequent to centuries of tyranny in which they had been constantly moved back for the white man to come and abuse their territories, Native Americans finally have the chance to fight for their rights through legal means. It had not been until 1990, when President Bush signed the NAGPRA into law, that the natives had finally gotten their rights recognized by the government.
The dam has been built in 1950, when the government did not pay much attention to the Native Americans and to their rights. In the present, the government brings into the question the issue of people risking a flood and a lesser production of energy. It is remarkable how people change over the years, and how the U.S. government plays with the rights of its citizens. Any good-hearted man would believe that the least that the government can do is to give the territory back to its rightful owners. Perhaps the natives would get a little bit of their honor back after centuries of suffering by regaining the burial sites of their ancestors.
This case is not singular in the U.S., as various tribes have struggled to regain their ancient cemeteries back from the government. In some cases, the authorities have even collaborated with the tribes in giving them their lands back. A Narrangansett Indian tribe has actually received help from the authorities in retrieving their land in 1982, even before the coming of the NAGPRA into law. A member of the Narrangansett tribe present at the place of the ancient burial site has even claimed that “there are very few people who have the sensitivity to understand the connection between the contemporary and ancient Indians and realize that we are one and the same.” (Jordan Kerber, 2006, pp. 60) Most cultures feel that their cemeteries and their ancestors are not necessarily a vital part of their society, since they are long gone and cannot intervene in any way with their actions.
In the present case, where Indians are fighting to get the government to admit their rights, the authorities also feel the difficulty of an ethical dilemma. The ethical dilemma is what gives uniqueness to the condition, as the other “Government vs. Indian tribes” cases involved lesser risks and drawbacks.
It would seem that money is much more important than human rights in certain occasions. A perfect example is the building of a hotel at Honakahua in the Hawaii when hundreds of human remains were removed from an ancient Indian cemetery in order to make place for the building. Fortunately, the hotel’s construction was halted after intense protests from the Hawaiians, and, the hotel has been built a few hundred meters further from the burial site. It had not been until the second half of the twentieth century that the government had actually started to pay attention to the demands made by Native Americans. Until that time however, a large number of Indian cemeteries in the U.S. are presumed to have been destroyed in order to make room for certain buildings.
Similar to how other governments have done when certain ethnic groups have demanded for their rights to be respected, the U.S. government should conform and act accordingly. Of course, the authorities would first have to be one hundred percent certain that the burial site actually belongs to the tribe claiming it. The fact that Indians are not accustomed to the reburial of their ancestors’ remains makes the matter even more difficult, since a negotiation would not be possible. Apparently, there is no other solution than to have the land retrieved to its owners, and large funds to be invested into a project that would divert the water from its course. The impacts of such an action would be devastating, both from an economical point-of-view, and from one that takes risk into attention.
One does not need to consider such an occurrence to be illogical and plainly ridiculous, since the fate of the hydroelectric dam has been sealed ever since the pouring of its foundation. If the authorities wanted to avoid having to put in additional funds, they should have initially thought about the repercussions that their actions might have. Considering the fact that the ancient burial site had been discovered approximately a mile above the dam, it is possible that the authorities did not know about its existence.
When all’s said and done it does not matter whether or not the authorities did or did not know about the burial site existence. The burial site will most probably be given back to the tribe having claimed it and the authorities will suffer the economical and political aftermath of their actions.
1. Bocek, Barb. (1992). “Native American Studies Collections.” Retrieved July 23, 2009, from the Stanford University Web site: http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/ssrg/native/appf.html
2. Boszhardt, Robert. (2000). “Native American Cemeteries.” Retrieved July 22, 2009, from the Lacrosse Library Web site: http://www.lacrosselibrary.org/genealogy/cemeteryhistories/nativeamerican.asp
3. Kerber, Jordan E. (2006). “Cross-cultural collaboration: Native peoples and archaeology in the northeastern United States.” U. Of Nebraska Press.
4. Yalom, Marilyn. (2008). “The American resting place: four hundred years of history through our cemeteries and burial grounds.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Boszhardt, Robert. (2000). “Native American Cemeteries.” Retrieved July 22, 2009, from the Lacrosse Library Web site: http://www.lacrosselibrary.org/genealogy/cemeteryhistories/nativeamerican.asp
Yalom, Marilyn. (2008). “The American resting place: four hundred years of history through our cemeteries and burial grounds.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Bocek, Barb. (1992). “Native American Studies Collections.” Retrieved July 23, 2009, from the Stanford University Web site:
Kerber, Jordan E. (2006). “Cross-cultural collaboration: Native peoples and archaeology in the northeastern United States.” U. Of Nebraska Press.
Boszhardt, Robert. (2000). “Native American Cemeteries.” Retrieved July 22, 2009, from the Lacrosse Library Web site: http://www.lacrosselibrary.org/genealogy/cemeteryhistories/nativeamerican.asp
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