Thursday, February 19, 2009
What to do when the President's grandpa robbed your grandpa's grave and maybe made out with the skull...
In reading this article (and not the lawsuit) I noticed two things. First Yale mentions that the Skull and Bones vault is not on their property. The obvious reason for this is that it indicates that they deny having any reason to be in this lawsuit. It also seems to be a NAGPRA inspired statement. If a Native American skull was being held on their property they would have been required to report it years ago under NAGPRA and possibly return it to the descendant community years ago as well. Yale receives some level of public funding thus they are not immune to NAGPRA thus this skull better not be at Yale proper or else they are in non compliance with a federal law.
It seems that the descendants of Goyaale/Geronimo are with it, however, and do not seem to be claiming him under NAGPRA. Rather they are the actual direct descendants: a family saying grandpa's grave was robbed and his body illegally taken with the Native American stuff mixed in just for flavor. If the bones are not Goyaale/Geronimo, but another Apache, the Geronimo family indicates that they want them returned as well but that would probably require a switch in legal tactic.
In a way it seems like they have left all doors open. I truely doubt they will ever get these bones back. I mean come on, the Skull and Bones people almost certainly have something Native American down there and they can just go hide it all before any search. These fellas are not the sympathetic sort (and I can pretty much assert that they all huge jerks and many other negative things). It is just an interesting way to go about it, to reach just a little beyond NAGPRA.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
This is where I might lose you, oh dear reader:
He spoke a lot about his own religion and his concept of Spirit, how Spirit comes from connection with the earth, etc. That this Spirit was quality of all human beings and that from it we know who we are, what we are, and where we should be. This and the rest of his talk brought my mind back to Bolivia in June 2005.
I suppose it is no surprise to say that my upbringing was decidedly western and passively non-religious which means that I am more than happy to accept any religion but claim none for myself. I feel powerful moments, just not spiritual moments. Except for once.
It was the solstice, the new year, and there were tens of thousands of people at the site. It was very cold, I hadn't slept. First we ended up in the room with all the mallkus, fellas holding various levels of power within the indigenous communities. We entered the site with them which involved a lot of shoving and pushing and Bolivians becoming angry at us getting special treatment for some weird reason. In the semi darkness I walked past where I was going to be digging the next week (and where I dug the year before) and there were people scattered about. The main temple complex was bursting at the seams.
This was before I lost my archaeological ID card in one blurry birthday night. I teamed up with my boss who is Aymara (plus his archaeology cred was way high) and we convinced the military police that we were important enough to be let into the off limits part of the site. Then we waited. Various computer programs told us that there would be an astronomical alignment with one temple during the solstice sunrise and that is what we were there to see. The 20,000 odd people behind us did not know about this alignment. We didn't know about it until just before. We waited.
Then the first sun of the new year peeked out over the distant ridge of the snowy topped Andes. The alignment was there. We were the first to experience it in that way in hundreds or a thousand years perhaps. Maybe more. I was struck by the idea that I was experiencing what this place was meant for. I was not just visiting, I was participating. We took off our gloves and, like the thousands of people behind us, warmed our hands with the new sun. My boss softly told what he believed this all meant to me and a young indigenous MP guy who had abandoned his post at the entrance to the alignment temple because we were clearly on to something interesting. We then climbed to the top of the pyramid (flashing our ID cards again) and looked out at the people filling the temple. It made so much sense.
Practically this had an effect on my archaeological work. It all made sense, everything I was finding, especially when illustrated with a modern photo of the packed temple spilling out onto my excavation area.
In a broader sense, and going back to this fellow's talk, I've found that I mentally cannot stay away from Bolivia...nor away from from that site (and I have tried to). All other projects seem to fail. I come back to it. He would say, perhaps, that I am connected to that land. I would say, maybe, that I just feel like I understand it a little bit. Who knows.
Perhaps Spirit is just some level of pan human understanding that can be transmitted through time by place. This part of our nature that suddenly allows us to understand what others of our species were going for when they produced something. If so, warming my hands to the new sun, standing exactly where I should be, was my contact with Spirit.
I wonder if others out there who are on intimate terms with the past have felt the same way.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Very recently the New York Times published an article entitled "In Bolivia, Untapped Bounty Meets Nationalism." My heart beats for yet another marketable natural resource that Bolivia has the most in the world of, but like the rest of them I wonder where it is going. I know nothing about lithium extraction and less than nothing about any extraction infrastructure that may already exist. I fear it may not exist and thus would be difficult/impossible to get off the ground. Nationalizing an industry that doesn’t exist yet…the article makes it sound like they are going at it. Go! Go team!
What really gets my typing fingers in a jitter is the wording of the article. First, the word Indian is used throughout. Come on Simon Romero...no one who isn't from India is an Indian anymore, get with the program dude. You are publishing in the US where Indian is quaintly antiquated at best. You call someone an Indio in Bolivia they might knock your teeth out. What dude at the Latin America desk with the surname Romero doesn't know that? Ultimately in many circles, Indian/Indio is a racial slur. It is loaded down with 500 years of oppression and people don't like it. I'm not wiggling my finger at nothing.
I also wiggle at "this desolate corner of the Andes, where Quechua-speaking Indians subsist on the remains of an ancient inland sea by bartering the salt they carry out on llama caravans." I know he is trying to be dramatic here and maybe explain why someone would support indigenous resource control but, Jesus. Why not just write 'the savages scrape at the dirt.' Actually he kind of says that later on, see title. Sure this is less obvious than "Indian" but sensationalization is really dehumanizing. Othering. Those Quechua speakers just totally got Othered.
What do you say to that, random Indigenous dude that got interviewed? "We are poor, but we are not stupid peasants."
Speaking of Othering: "Mr. Castro said. “But in order to go down that road, we must raise the revolutionary consciousness of our people…" That is Mr. MARCELO Castro, not Fidel or Raul. He is the manager of the project and this was said "Over a meal of llama stew and a Pepsi." The llama eating was clearly a very important detail. Basically some dude said one thing that was sorta red, his name is Castro, and wham bam it is in the American paper because, you know, they seem a bit commie down there and we are not sure what to think about them. Par for any article on Bolivia.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
A friend of mine teaches primarily the children in families with less than favorable immigration status. Recently some of these families have been considering making a move back to Latin America. The demise of construction means that work is scare to the point that home (in this case Guatemala) seems the only option. Somehow this story has defined the extent of the financial crisis for me. The complete lack of work and the desire to get to the US/Spain etc was the general theme of most conversations I had with Guatemalans while working there in 2003.
Thus it seems that archaeology is in the same boat: with construction not likely to pick up for a while (and perhaps never reach the same levels again) are we destined to go back to a time when an undergraduate degree in archaeology led no specific practical carrier?
On this chilly night marking undergraduate essays, I wonder where each of them will end up. I wonder where I will end up for that matter.