BONES OF CONTENTION

THE LAW REQUIRES THE REBURIAL OF INDIAN REMAINS. SO WHY ARE THERE STILL 700 SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET?

Wood never broaches the topic of whether everything--bones, pottery--will be crushed when the earth is pushed back over the holes.

The Hopi and Zuni are happy to cooperate with the Forest Service in solving the whole repatriation project. They don't want to stand in the way of progress, of roads and dams on their ancestral lands.

"The philosophy of the Hopi tribe is that we're not in this whole process to polarize the situation any further," says Leigh Jenkins of the Hopi. "We want to have a very productive working relationship."

But the tribes do not want to pay the costs of repatriation. If the Forest Service dug up these people, they reason, the Forest Service needs to rebury them.

"The Hopi position is that the financial burden shouldn't be on the tribes, it should be on the federal agencies that permitted the excavations to occur," Jenkins says.

Nor do the tribes want to face the attendant security problems of reburying the related funerary objects, which could be worth millions of dollars to pothunters, dealers and collectors.

When partial inventories of those artifacts were run by a Scottsdale Indian-art dealer, his eyes opened wide and he remarked, "This would dwarf even the largest private collections."

But he also pointed out that the severe penalties for trafficking in grave-related items have dried up the market. The dealer, who asked not to be identified, practically shook when he described visits from tabloid TV shows with hidden cameras and undercover federal agents trying to fence perfect Gila polychrome pots they claimed they'd found by accident while relieving themselves behind a saguaro at Roosevelt Lake. Unless they have stellar business and personal references and complete documentation of where they got the pottery, the dealer said, he'd send them packing.

"There is no black market so far as I know," the dealer said, especially since the majority of prehistoric ceramic pieces aren't worth more than $25 to $100, anyway. Only a rare few are worth in the thousands.

Still, the Forest Service and the tribes worry that pothunters could be lured by such large caches.

"Security is something the Forest Service and the tribes need to work on together," says Roger Anyon, an archaeologist for the Zuni. "But, ultimately, it's the responsibility of the Forest Service to ensure the security of these remains and the funerary objects."

And where will these burials take place? Obviously, the remains can't be secretly buried in remote areas of the forest. Someone is sure to notice an excavation that could contain 700 skeletons. And with $1 million or so worth of artwork buried with them, they must consider the safety of the graves.

Scott Wood figures the final resting spot will sit next to a forest administrative building somewhere, in plain view of the road, with a fence around it and locked gates. It will be equal parts Fort Apache, Fort Knox and Forest Lawn.

And if archaeologists 500 years from now stumble upon it, who knows how they'll rewrite history trying to explain what happened there? Perhaps, they'll see it as a monument to well-meaning laws that no one knew how to implement.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Phoenix Concert Tickets
Loading...