restricted access 10. Navigating a Colonial Quagmire: Affirming Native Lives in the Struggle to Define Our Dead
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239 Chapter 10 Navigating a Colonial Quagmire: Affirming Native Lives in the Struggle to Defend Our Dead CLAYTON W. DUMONT JR. “The most significant challenge of our generation is to safeguard what remains.” —Wallace Coffey1 For Native peoples, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA 25 U.S.C. 3001) is about protecting the physical remains, the graves, the spirits, and the dignity of our ancestors. Yet there is something even more fundamental at stake. NAGPRA is about our very survival as Native peoples. It is about our ability to maintain our own identities, to define our worlds and histories for ourselves, to know and to teach our children who we are. The future of NAGPRA is inextricably tied to Native peoples’ ability to resist political, judicial, and epistemological attacks on our status as sovereign peoples. NAGPRA is about power. Defending NAGPRA’s integrity, as Indian law designed to protect Native ways of knowing and being from the aggressions of hostile archaeologists and physical anthropologists , is resistance to forced assimilation. Attacks on NAGPRA actively erase Native peoples as distinct cultures and political entities. Resisting requires contesting the naturalization of anthropological narratives. To challenge the colonial power of scientists , we must point to the cultural and historical, and not panhuman, bases of their desires, beliefs, and self-perceptions. We will not win in the courts and halls of government without confronting their cultural stories, including their tales of “objectivity.” As Natives, should we fail to recognize and interrogate the thoroughly colonial qualitiesoftheculturaldomainswherethebattletodefineNAGPRAisoccurring,we risk ceding our right to self-representation, and ultimately our self-understandings, to non-Indians. I begin by introducing myself and describing how I came to the battle for this law. I then consider some of the not-always-obvious complexity of insisting on 240 CHAPTER 10 Natives’ cultural and political uniqueness, complexity that comes to light when we acknowledge the overwhelming power of American colonialism to influence Native self-understandings. Next I sketch out a modest portion of the cultural history that gave birth to our scientific opponents’ desires. I locate epistemological longings of contemporary American archaeology and physical anthropology in the politics and history of Europe. My goal is to show that the passions of these scientists originate, like all human political articulations, from the cultural intrigues of specific times and places. I then assess the double standard afforded the scientists’ cultural constructs in the courts, where the future of NAGPRA will almost certainly be decided. Finally, I conclude with a brief suggestion of strategy for organizing ourselves as Native peoples and allies to confront the most obstinate NAGPRA resisting scientists and institutions. Introduction Waq lisi (Hello.) gew ?a seesas Clayton Dumont. (My name is Clayton Dumont.) noo ?a ?ewksiknii (I am Klamath.) I am also a professor of sociology at San Francisco State University. I have been studying and writing about NAGPRA for a little more than a decade. My motivations are personal, tribal, pan-Indian, and academic. My first experience with the horror of grave desecration happened while I was a teenager. I had driven to one of the reservation cemeteries where many family members , including my great-grandparents, are buried. The sound of my pickup bouncing up the dirt road brought a tribal member and his very large dog from a nearby house out to greet me. The sight of recently disturbed graves and freshly turned dirt explained his vigilance. I remember feeling sick to my stomach as I walked among the violated burials, looking at the familiar names of tribal families on the headstones. Many of these ancestors were dead before I was born, but I felt like I knew them from the stories I had heard from elders. Not too many years later, my uncle told me of “some asshole” who knew that “an Indian lived in the house” he rented in Springfield, Oregon, and so knocked on his door trying to sell contents of Indians’ graves. When this same uncle was younger, we kids joked that he would one day pack his guns and head off to join the American Indian Movement (AIM). As a young adult, that rather animated conversation in Springfield helped me understand why he could be so stridently serious about being Native. Almost a decade later, I was a newly minted PhD, interviewing for a job at the small university near our traditional lands in southern Oregon. In my application letter, I had written of my desire to be close to the Klamath Tribes...