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common ground

Speaking Nation to Nation
Summer/Fall 1997, vol. 2(3/4)

Online Archive

*  A Common Cause on Common Ground

(photo) Yankton Sioux delegation arrives at the White House, 1905.

"[Glacier Bay National Park] was founded in the spirit of John Muir, with a strong tradition of scientific inquiry [and] an historic focus looking only as far back as the arrival of European explorers. Perhaps it was this short-sightedness that led to many of the conflicts to come."

Wayne Howell

by Alexa Roberts and James E. Bradford

A visitor's 1993 discovery of human remains eroding from a knoll along the shores of Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, Texas, began a three-year process of consultation between the National Park Service and affiliated tribes. Over the course of the process, which involved nearly all the consultation provisions of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the remains were excavated and analyzed, and then blessed and reburied during a tribal ceremony. Consultation about the remains, and about Lake Meredith collections, has created a new relationship between the park and the tribes.

The visitor spotted the remains at the water's edge, where they had rolled from an eroded burial site atop a small hill, and brought them to a ranger. Ranger Ed Day took them to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, where much of the park's 750,000-item collection is housed, to ensure careful treatment until the tribes could be consulted. Due to their highly deteriorated condition, the remains were assumed to pre-date European contact, but since no objects were found associated with the burial, an exact age and cultural affiliation could not be determined.

Lake Meredith had not yet begun its NAGPRA-mandated inventory of human remains—which calls for consultation with tribes—and therefore did not know which could be culturally affiliated, nor even which to consult. So, acting on consultation guidelines then in use, the park turned to Edward Natay, chief of the office of American Indian programs at the Southwest regional office. He contacted the Kiowa Tribe, Comanche Tribe, and Mescalero and Jicarilla Apache Tribes; two responded, saying they could advise only if the remains were proved conclusively to be affiliated with them. The tribes and the park decided to keep the remains in the museum until affiliation was determined for the rest of the inventory.

The following month, at an Oklahoma City consultation with the NPS regional NAGPRA team on the inventories of several parks, the Kiowa Tribe, Comanche Tribe, and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes expressed an interest in human remains from Lake Meredith. The Jicarilla Apache Tribe and the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma also claimed general affiliation with geographic areas encompassing the lake. Although the Comanche and Kiowa were still considering how to approach affiliation with human remains over 500 years old, tribal representatives said they wished to be consulted further about the discovery.

Meanwhile, events at Lake Meredith hastened a decision: additional remains were actively eroding downslope. Those that were disarticulated and too close to the water's edge were collected and carefully placed among stone cobbles next to the grave until they could be properly treated.

At a New Mexico consultation a month later, a coalition of Apache tribes said that they did not wish to claim pre-European contact human remains at present (although they may develop a policy in the future).In November we contacted Virgil Swift, historic preservation officer with the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, and Lawrence Edge, then NAGPRA coordinator for the Kiowa, to follow up. Both agreed that the remains should be reburied and wished to be involved. Plans were made to meet at the burial site in January to work out a course of action. The recovered remains were returned to the park for inspection at the meeting and to reunite with the other remains for reburial.

In addition to ourselves, Park Service attendees included Chief Ranger Dale Thompson, Environmental Protection Specialist Wesley Phillips, Ed Day, and graduate research student Deborah Summers. Virgil Swift and Ira French represented the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes while Lawrence Edge and Leon Hunter represented the Kiowa. A representative from the state historic preservation office was invited but unable to attend.

We went to the grave site by boat to discuss the eroding remains and where they could be reinterred. Later in the day, at Lake Meredith headquarters, we explained to tribal representatives that the Park Service was mainly interested in their concerns about what had happened since the discovery and what to do with the remains now.

The group agreed that the two of us would prepare a scope of work outlining excavation and in-field analysis. The following provisions would apply: 1) the remains would be exposed, documented, inventoried, and then relocated to another area on the same ridge; 2) the Wichita and Kiowa would conduct the reburial ceremonies; 3) the grave would be two to three feet deep to minimize the area of impact, with fill including two layers of wire mesh and a layer of concrete above the remains and vegetation planted to camouflage the site from vandals; 4) both the original and the reburial grave would be recorded with Global Positioning System mapping for future monitoring; and 5) for record-keeping, the location would be associated with a larger, previously recorded archeological site nearby.

The Kiowa Tribe, the Wichita Tribe, and the Texas SHPO concurred. To make the identity of the remains less ambiguous, the Wichita requested that they be radiocarbon-dated to determine if they were from the Antelope Creek phase (AD 1250-1500), a period to which the tribe traces ancestry. NPS consulted with the other four interested tribes (the Kiowa, Mescalero Apache, Jicarilla Apache, and Apache Tribe of Oklahoma), none of whom objected, and agreed to honor the request (coincidentally, final NAGPRA regulations had just lifted a Park Service moratorium on destructive analyses in the Southwest).

The remains were excavated in mid-March of last year. Both the Wichita and Kiowa were asked if any ceremonies were necessary before the removal of the remains, and neither said there were. The skeleton was in very fragile condition; part was missing, including the cranium, having eroded downslope. Some of the long bones, partially exposed for quite some time, were heavily sun-bleached. No associated artifacts were found.

Michael Schillaci, a physical anthropologist, was hired to conduct the inventory and analysis, which concentrated on determining sex, age, and biological affinity as well as identifying any pathology or developmental disorders. The remains were those of a female between 49 and 55, who stood about 4 feet 2 inches at the time of her death. She had at least one child, suffered from osteoarthritis severe enough to restrict her mobility, and had broken a wrist at some point in her life. Her cause of death and biological affiliation could not be determined, but radiometric dates of AD 1180-1265 (68 percent probability) and AD 1150-1285 (95 percent probability) unquestionably placed her remains in the early Antelope Creek phase.

Before the Wichita could rebury her, still other measures had to be taken. According to the final NAGPRA regulations (43 CFR 10), which had taken effect just days before the January meeting, the Park Service was required to "publish general notices of the proposed disposition in a newspaper of general circulation in the area in which the human remains . . . were excavated . . . or discovered inadvertently . . . and, if applicable, in a newspaper of general circulation in the area(s) in which affiliated Indian tribes . . . now reside." The notice had to be published at least two times a week apart, and the disposition could not take place until 30 days after the second notice "to allow time for any additional claimants to come forward" (43 CFR 10.6[c]). Published in the Amarillo, Texas, Globe-News and the Anadarko, Oklahoma, Daily News, they were the first Park Service notices for an inadvertent discovery under the new rules. No other claimants came forward.

Due to the rough terrain on which the remains were originally buried, and the physical limitations of the Wichita Purity Priest who would conduct the ceremony, it was agreed to move the grave site to a more accessible location in the same area of the park. In compliance with section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, this area was surveyed and found clear of sites eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Approximately 20 people attended the mid-October ceremony, including Virgil Swift, George Akeen, Sr., and Timothy Baugh of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, Superintendent John Benjamin and Wesley Phillips from Lake Meredith NRA, and Director Walter Davis and archeologist A.J. Taylor from the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. The reburial went extremely well, bringing together a diverse group for a common cause on common ground.

The entire process, from discovery to reburial, was successful due to the integrated and multidisciplinary approach of all those involved. The park's request for its regional experts; the blending of ethnography and archeology in consultation, excavation, and analysis; the Wichita's request for radiometric dating—all were essential to the outcome. The interest and participation of the other tribes ensured that no concerns were overlooked.

Today, Lake Meredith has requested and received funding to develop a long-range consultation plan. As a first step, the park is working with the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes to craft a NAGPRA consultation protocol agreement. Thus, through a lengthy but careful process, one discovery ultimately led to another: of a new relationship between the park and its tribal partners.

The authors wish to thank John Benjamin, superintendent at Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, Timothy Baugh, archeologist for the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, and Virgil Swift, historic preservation officer for the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes for their review of a draft of this article. We also wish to thank them for their continual enthusiasm and efforts to maintain an active and positive dialogue.

For more information, contact Alexa Roberts, anthropologist for the NPS Southwest Support Office Cultural Resources Program at (505) 988-6764 or Jim Bradford, archeologist and program leader, at (505) 988-6758.

MJB/EJL