Video: Militant Indian on 80s Sitcom and Archaeology of Burials
April 13, 2015
I visited the University of Minnesota's horticulture research centre in Minneapolis the other weekend. In a quiet daze flickin through hotel TV channels we came across this gem:
In-comes google with the answers to all my immediate questions - what was this show? And who was this "militant Indian"?
This series Barney Miller centered on the funnies of Greenwich Village's 12th Precinct and originally aired in 1975. The aptly titled episode "Bones" (S08 E19) is a doozy. In this episode: "The precinct's plumbing goes out again; A scoutmaster apprehends a mugger; A militant Indian retrieves his tribe's ancestral bones."
The American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in 1968 in Minneapolis so we thought it was a good place for us to to catch the serendipidous airing of "Bones". What wasn't so agreeable, was the thought that not a lot has actually changed between archaeologists and Indigenous people in the 33 years since this particlaur episode airead (1982).
Certainly, many archaeologists have worked tirelessly with Indigenous communities to repatriate their already excavated ancestral remains or to ensure burials are not further disturbed by development and resource extraction activities. Arguably, the Native American Graves Protection Act (NAGPRA) was signed in 1990 to enforce the respectful treatment of Native American burials in the United States and provincial mandates in various Canadian provinces help protect ancestral bones and funerary objects of First Nations.
But if the recent Grace Islet debacle is any indication of "where we're at" then we, the archaeologists, are to blame. The archaeological process (as legistlated) in British Columbia gave the green light to a cottage development on burial cairns last summer on Salt Spring Island. When brought to task for the shoddy compliance of an even shoddier heritage protocol, the povince ended up buying the controversial burial site. But what did it take to stop development? It had nothing to do with respecting Indgienous burials but rather it was the ecological impacts that were highlighted as cause for protection and cessation of development.
Some archaeologists and other signatories of the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinch) group have made a very important decleration on the Safeguarding of Indigenous Ancestral Burial Grounds as Sacred Sites and Cultural Landscapes. But I keep thinking that more needs to be done by way of public-discourse. How can we get the public to engage more on this topic? So that, when an Indigenous burial is dessecrated we can harness the same level of outrage as when a Western cemetary is vandalized. (As noted by the Globe and Mail, there are over 2,000 sites in B.C. believed to contain First Nations remains, according to The Globe And Mail. But they aren't recognized or protected the same way cemeteries are).
The sworn oath of archaeologists to preserve and protect cultural heritage and to disseminate the knowledge thereof to the public has been somewhat ignored. That is, the dissemination part. As the the second video clip suggests - talking with actual people is not the job of archaeologists but rather, falls within the realm of anthropology. I know many archG's who would disagree wih that statement - but there is generally little discourse between archaeologists and the public. So what can we (as archaeologists) do to change this? Which archaeologsits are already doing their part? Has it changed much in recent years? Do enough archaeologists move beyond the rote practice of legislation that (sometimes) protects a developer instead a people?