May 25, 2015

CRM update

Filed under: Conservation/CRM — acagle @ 8:40 am

Rare Indian Burial Ground Quietly Destroyed for Million Dollar Houses

Old news (in both senses!) for regular readers here, in multiple senses: the linked article is also from April of 2014 (just saw it linked elsewhere and thought it was new, but remembered I’d referred to it in the past).

But I’ve rethought things a bit and there may be something else I hadn’t considered, found in this paragraph:

But the whole situation is more complicated than archeologists versus developers. The remains have since been reburied according to the wishes of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the most likely descendants of the area’s indigenous people. The tribe was not keen on turning the burial ground into an archeological site. “How would Jewish or Christian people feel if we wanted to dig up skeletal remains in a cemetery and study them? Nobody has that right,” a chairman for the tribe said to the Chronicle.

I wondered after I read this: What if developers and other landowners start bypassing archaeologists altogether and just going through the tribes? In Washington state this isn’t really possible since the State has its paws all over anything archaeological, even on private land. But even then, if there are burials found and if no laws exist on what to do with them, what’s to stop the landowners from just allowing whatever tribe to get the burials out? The landowners wouldn’t have to pay extra for reports and curation and such since the tribes don’t have much interest in either; that’s the archaeologists’ concern. They may not even — depending on the tribes’ financial standing — have to pay for the removal. One gets the sense that the State wold happily throw archaeologists under the bus to curry favor with the tribes and thus avoid any lawsuits. Of course, many tribes would not want anything disturbed and could fight; I have a feeling, though, that when developers and other big landowners start throwing money at them to make the problem go away, we’d probably see far more accommodation.

That said, I should note that, in my case anyway, this is one of those times of conflicting principles. Ordinarily, I’m well on the side of leaving anything archaeological in the ground or at least having it removed professionally so at least some information and, marginal though it may end up being in the long run, curation of material is kept rather than being dug up, hauled away, and dumped (or just looted). But when that butts up against private property rights, I side with the latter. Human remains (within reason) may need to be protected, but I don’t trust any government entity not to abuse that power.

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