In Which I Give You Your First Pop Quiz or POP QUIZ HOT SHOT True or False - The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is causing the downfall of museums and the end of the world as we know it...it's not... some people say it might be...
Before we begin today’s pop quiz (good thing you came to class today!) we have to start with some background information. Here is an article you can read if you want to know more about Indigenous Hawaiians protest against building the TMT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-scope) (OR Thirty Meter Telescope) on top of Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain to the Hawaiian people.
While certain agencies were ready to break ground on this telescope Indigenous Hawaiian people led a protest that “blocked access near the mountain’s summit” which led to the cancellation of the groundbreaking event. Indigenous Hawaiians note that there are several other telescopes already built, that this would only add to the already overdeveloped land, that it further desecrates one of their most sacred mountains, and that the TMT doesn’t HAVE to be built in this location. This is an ongoing issue.
Then today this guy writes an article for the New York Times called “Seeking Stars, Finding Creationism” and I laughed and laughed (I also guffawed and then rolled my eyes, snorted a little bit and went back to laughing). He somehow turns this protest against desecration of a sacred site into an indictment of the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act and argues that this federal law, which supports the repatriation of Indigenous remains and cultural objects to Indigenous peoples, somehow brings us back to the dark ages and is an attack on science.
He is not the first old science guy to make this argument. He for sure (sadly) will not be the last. But (and I do this a lot) there is an important opportunity here to see how certain ideologies continue to be perpetrated by “scholars” and “scientists” with very little understanding about how their ideologies are informed by settler colonialism meant to claim, conquer and erase Indigenous peoples (so as to claim, conquer and own the land by claiming, conquering and owning “intellectualism” and “civilization” and “science.”) As if Native people can either be “creationists” or “scientists” but never both at the same time. As if “spirituality” must be separated from the scientific. As if Indigenous people fighting for the rights to protect their land is somehow “anti-science” simply because scientists feel entitled to use this land for what they want to do with it.
As if “astronomy” is a science that begins with Galileo and only belongs to western scholars. As if having to re-think and re-tool and re-configure this one telescope will set back astronomy to the DARK AGES. As if Indian people want to go back to dark ages.
We weren’t even IN the dark ages. That’s a western thing. When Rome fell, Native people went “#ByeFelicia” and then went back to their complex egalitarian societies. (I am being flippant. Native people may or may not have cared about Rome falling. Maybe they heard about it. We are still learning the extent to which they exchanged information with other parts of the world. Maybe they went “that’s too bad for Rome. If only they had let women also be a contributing part of their political society. And why they gotta do Caesar like that?” or maybe they didn’t care cause it’s just Rome. Rome was not the entire world. The world is quite large. The dark ages happened but… (They didn’t happen here).
What’s the point? The point is that today is a quiz day! Bust out your papers and write down your answer. This quiz is worth 1 billion points in my class where everyone gets an A.
First read the dude’s article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/21/science/seeking-stars-finding-creationism.html?_r=0
FYI: The numbers after each answer selection reference your teacher's (mine) study notes included below!
Quiz Question #1: What is the most infuriating (disappointing yet hilarious) assertion in this article?
A. That the author refers to the TMTelescope as "a triumph in astronomy’s quest to understand the origin of everything." and then refers to the Native Hawaiians protests against building that telescope on their sacred land as "the latest insult to their gods." (1)
B. That he calls criticism of the development of this area for a telescope by both environmentalists and Indigenous people a "marriage of convenience" that "might undermine the credibility of what may be perfectly sound scientific arguments about the effects of a mammoth construction project on vulnerable mountain terrain." And then states that the "state’s Board of Land and Natural Resources agreed with astronomers that the trade-off is worthwhile, and plans are proceeding." (2)
C. That he compares Indigenous protesters to "biblical creationists opposing the teaching of evolution." (3)
D. That he then says "American Indian tribes have succeeded in using their own religious beliefs and a federal law called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to *empty* archaeological museums of ancestral bones." *Emphasis Mine*(4)
E. That he then goes on to point out that these bones (which have been EMPTIED from the poor museums) include "ones so ancient that they have no demonstrable connection to the tribe demanding their reburial." (5)
F. He then compares the repatriation of Indigenous human remains to tribal peoples as a "turn back toward the dark ages" because "it's not just skeletal remains that are being surrendered." (6)
G. AND THEN he decides that this repatriation of remains and cultural objects (that didn't belong to the museum in the first place) is just a toleration of "Indian creationism" and "guilt over past wrong doings." (7)
H. The fact that this article is published on the NEW YORK TIMES website while my (super duper) blog is NOT part of the New York Times?! http://cutchabaldy.weebly.com/blog (8)
I. All of the above.
Turn in your papers (or don’t, everyone gets an A) and enjoy your day.
Study Notes (for your amusement)
(1) Stop insulting our Gods. They hate that. Why do you think the Cubs never win the World Series?! HOO-AH!
(2) And as we all know state agencies have NEVER made a bad decision when it comes to environmental impacts and that they NEVER err on the side of development over environmental degradation. (See Lyng V. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association)
(3) So I read this and then thought of this story -- Vine Deloria, Jr. used to say that whenever he started talking about Indigenous issues and Indigenous world views where we didn't separate spirituality from the rest of our lives and that science is, in itself, its own religion… that people would yell at him “you’re just a creationist!” And he would say “okay…and?” There is a much longer conversation about what it means to ask *scientists* to be responsible to things other than their *science*or to think about how their *science* is informed by cultural positioning. Or, as Sandra Harding once said at a presentation I went to (I paraphrase) “how science is really just a white Protestant science of the world”…sooo… also informed by a religion even if they don’t want to acknowledge or understand this fact.
(4) Ha ha ha! The poor desolate museums are *empty.* Now when we go to museums we just have to stare at tiny cards that say “well, we would be able to teach you something but now we can’t because the American Indians took all of our stuff. So now you will learn NOTHING. Today you came to this museum and you learned NOTHING. Thank an American Indian.” #You’reWelcome
BTDubbs. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is a federal law passed in 1990. It was as a result of several years of negotiation between Native peoples and other agencies. Basically, it says that museums which are federally funded should make every effort to return Indigenous remains back to their ancestral homelands. This is because there are thousands upon thousands of remains in museums, most of them are not studied for anything, and most of those in museums that are not studied for anything are Native American. Since 1990 there have been approximately 40,000 remains repatriated. There still remain (reported) 179,000 remains in museum collections. (This does not include those which are not reported). Don’t worry museums, you are still the majority share holder even though there is a LAW that says you shouldn’t be.
(5) Oh man is this something scientists seem to hate. They seem to hate giving “too ancient” remains back to “modern” Native peoples. There is so much going on in this statement I could write a book (some people have. Check it out.) Part of this comes from the belief that modern Native people are not the same people who were Native people thousands of years ago. This belief is perpetuated (by science, and their red-headed step child anthropology and anthropology’s cousin history) as a cultural mythology that the last “real” Native American person died in 1491 (or if you’re in California 1848, unless you are a Southern California Native then it’s more like 1768). It always has to be the year BEFORE contact with western settlers because the moment that a Native person meets a white person they stop being Native and start being “colonized” which means their Nativeness disintegrates and finally disappears. The reason this happens… science. (I kid. I kid.) This happens because according to western scholars as Native people become more assimilated they give up their Nativeness- or they can’t be Native in a modern world. (Not true) If there were “real” Native Americans they would still look like, act like, speak like, think like, and be like the Native peoples from 1491 (1848, 1768). The assumption is that Native people had always been the same from Year 1 to 1491. They were more like animals or what some scientists call Primitive, Hunter-Gatherer, Pre-historic, Nomadic. Once they were introduced to “civilization” and “culture” they lost their Indianness and were no longer Primitive, Hunter-Gatherer, Pre-Historic, Nomadic.
I teach 10 week long classes on this stuff so to put it in to a few sentences is difficult for me. But here goes. We existed, here, in this space, at bare minimum (if you are going by anthropological/archaeological studies) 10,000 years. If you ask Native people, it is much longer (since the beginning of time). But at only 10,000 years that’s a lot of years to remain exactly the same and never change or adapt or try new stuff or change our minds. And that probably wasn’t the case. People change. Cultures adapt. Things happen. We all know this. Consider how our cultures have changed in very short amounts of time. 10 years ago none of us were posting pictures of our appetizers on Instagram. 20 years ago we were calling people to check and make sure they got our emails. 25 years ago we were paging people. That’s just what we’ve done in a quarter of a century.
We tend to be different than our ancestors. Nobody would say “you’re not English because you don’t speak old English and you don’t wear tights and wigs and have wooden teeth and say ‘alo govna.’”
All beside my real point which is, sorry Felicia, we are related to those ancient ancestors. I can give you all the reasons why but instead I will just suggest you take my class. Or invite me to come and give you a class. #PayMeMoney
(6) Not true.
(7) I kind of like how the guy he interviews in the piece says something like “we should feel bad and maybe this is what we have to deal with.” But that’s beside the point. It’s not that people “feel bad” or as this guy says “guilt” it’s because many of these rights to remains are extended to people from the same periods of time while for Indian people they are fought against like it will bring about *the end of thought* or *the end of education.* For instance, when someone finds remains that are not Indigenous their first thought is not “can I study these for my research” but “who do these belong to?” You can get a grant to study the bones of Indigenous peoples, but not a grant to study the bones of non-Indigenous white settlers and pioneers from the same time period. Natives don’t argue creationism, they talk about responsibility. Others talk about fundamental human rights. Others talk about how the possession of human bones is counterintuitive, how do you own a human? Are their bones just objects? And even if your answer is “yes” does that mean they feel the same way?
The way in which Indigenous people’s buried and then cared for their dead is evidence that they had already had these conversations and their conclusion was “we are responsible for these remains, we will care for them, and they will return to the earth.” Your differing worldview does not negate their worldview and the answer isn’t about who is “right” and who is “wrong” but instead is about “what can we learn from these Indigenous viewpoints and how will that give us a better, more informed, deeper understanding of our world?” What if building the telescope in a different place actually proves to be more fruitful? What if in consideration of Indigenous rights to land it opens up possibilities to work with land in other areas? What if your science actually worked with people instead of against them? What if you gave back all the bones? What really happens when you start to have these conversations? WHAT IF ALL THAT LEADS TO SOMETHING GREATER?
(8) The answer is H of course.
(9) Okay, I guess it can be “all of the above.”
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Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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