Indian Bones Returned for Burial

Pueblo remains returned after 70 years at HUAM

Early this morning, a 53-foot tractor-trailer was slowly rolling its way down America's highways, near its halfway point in a cross-country odyssey from Harvard's Peabody Museum to New Mexico burial grounds.

The truck left Harvard early yesterday morning carrying the bones of 1,912 members of the Pueblo tribe of American Indians.

More than 70 years after they were dug out of the desert by archaeologists, they are going home.

And there to meet them will be 200 members of the Pueblo of Jemez, traveling on their own three day-trek to give their ancestors a proper reburial.

"They have a very strong feelings about this--very personal and cultural sense that their ancestors should not have been removed and that their remains are being rightfully returned," said Rubie S. Watson, director of the Peabody Museum.


The process that led to this exchange began nine years ago in Congressional boardrooms and has finally resulted in the return of the Peabody collection, which was arguably the most important collection of modern American Indian remains in the country-and certainly the largest.

Originally collected by Alfred V. Kidder '08 from 1915 to 1929, the collection has served as a central research source for archeologists focusing on southwestern tribes.

With remains originating from the "pre-contact" era--before the arrival of Spanish explorers--up till the seventeenth century, the remains have been crucial in allowing researchers to trace the effects of Spanish settlement on disease, diet and bone trauma.

"Because it's so large, it offers an unique resource to researchers and its the largest in North America at least in recent times," said Barbara Isaac, the Peabody assistant director and coordinator for repatriation.

But the remains are being returned to New Mexico in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, passed in 1990. According to the act, any museums with skeletal remains and "sacred objects" from American Indian tribes in their collections must return them to the tribes.

And so while the bones at Harvard have helped researchers immensely, this resource will return to the New Mexican sands in the Pecos Valley at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

William J. Whatley, the Pueblo of Jemez's archaeologist, a National Park ranger, and two members of the Pueblo Jemez tribe followed the truck in a rental van. Saturday's burial will end not only their journeys but also theculmination of a nine-year effort by the tribe toreturn their ancestor's remains to their rightfulresting place.

The Peabody Museum of Andover, which Kidderoriginally was affiliated with and which stillholds over 14,000 Pueblo ceramic artifacts, wasthe first to contact the tribe soon after the 1990act was passed.

In an emotional ceremony at the Peabody thisTuesday that included museum officials, PuebloGovernor Raymond Gachupin and Pueblo War ChiefPete Toya, the official paperwork was signed,paving the way for the remains to begin theircross-country trek.

While the Smithsonian Institute, which has thelargest collection of American Indian remains inthe nation, is supplied with amillion-dollar-per-year appropriation fromCongress, the Peabody, which has been planningsince 1993, has had to look to more locally forfunding.

While Watson said that some funding has comefrom the museum's operating budget, a "significantportion" of the total $3 million funding forrepatriation will come from President Neil L.Rudenstine's office.

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