Desecration: Unearthed Native Burial Site Causes Uproar

The summer sky drizzles rain as Arden Kucate and Theresa Pasqual drive toward a nondescript field in eastern Arizona. On this overcast day in August, they are heading to a place their ancestors called home centuries ago.

There, an adobe compound, known as Amity Pueblo, toppled by time, is a mound of rubble disguised by a carpet of shrubs and grass.

When they arrive, Pasqual navigates her truck just a few feet past an opening in the feeble fence surrounding the area when Kucate abruptly tells her to stop.

Bone fragments, jewelry (including a broken shell bracelet, top right), and pottery are remnants of an ancient adobe civilization devastated when Arizona Game and Fish started construction on a community fishing pond.
Bone fragments, jewelry (including a broken shell bracelet, top right), and pottery are remnants of an ancient adobe civilization devastated when Arizona Game and Fish started construction on a community fishing pond.
The X on the map shows the location of the desecration near Eagar.
New Times map
The X on the map shows the location of the desecration near Eagar.

He spots a bone in their path.

Kucate and Pasqual slide out of the pickup, stunned into silence as they gaze upon not just that bone but thousands of shattered bones and artifacts strewn across acres.

See a slideshow to accompany this story.

"It was like walking a coastal beach and seeing the different seashells scattered on the sand," Pasqual recalls. "The whiteness of the bones was in clear contrast to the rich, brown soil."

Bones — including skulls, ribs, femurs, jaws, and fingers — from at least 10 ancient adults and adolescents were ripped from their graves, broken and scattered by bulldozers and backhoes. The devastation occurred in late April 2011 when the Arizona Game and Fish Department started construction on a public fishing pond.

When Kucate and Pasqual see some of the remains in piles of dirt scooped out of the ground, disbelief clashes with a welling sense of sorrow.

"It was so sad looking at all the remains, lying there," remembers Kucate, head tribal councilman for the Pueblo of Zuni.

He and Pasqual come upon a broken, octagon-shape tablet. They look around for the rest of its pieces but find none. Kucate wonders what happened to them, suspicious that looters already may have claimed remnants of his ancestors and priceless shards of pottery and jewelry, some of which may date back to 900 A.D.

"I don't think anyone was prepared for what we saw or for the emotions that we felt," relates Pasqual, a member of the Acoma tribe, and the Indian community's historic preservation officer. "It was quiet, very quiet, on that field."

The pair are part of a 10-member convoy of representatives from several tribes — the Zuni, the Hopi, the Navajo Nation, and the Acoma — who arrive in the town of Eagar on this gloomy day to examine the violated burial site. They are accompanied by 14 state and federal officials.

As the pair continue to survey the devastation, they choke back anger and frustration. A single thought races through their minds: How could this have happened?


One colossal misstep after another by government agencies transformed what was planned to be a two-acre family fishing pond in a tiny Apache County town into a swath of sprawling desecration.

It started with Arizona Game and Fish officials relying on an archaeologist who was not officially certified to survey the land for potential historic properties and offer advice during construction. They allowed unsupervised high school students to operate heavy earth-moving machinery over more than nine acres — just yards away from sacred Amity Pueblo. Even when workers saw bones and artifacts erupting from the ground, state officials tell New Times, the archaeologist gave them the okay to keep going.

Construction started on April 27, 2011, and wasn't halted until May 6. During that time, human remains and artifacts were dispersed over nine acres of land.

"We should have known better, but we didn't," admits Arizona Game and Fish Deputy Director Gary Hovatter.

He and other officials compounded the damage by giving short shrift to laws that are supposed to protect historic homes and human remains of the first nations to occupy what has become the United States.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which agreed to pay for part of the now-canceled pond project, failed to comply with a federal law that, in part, requires it to examine work areas for precious remnants of history before digging begins. If there's the potential to encounter such artifacts, agency officials legally are obligated to come up with a plan to minimize damage and consult with interested parties — in this case, surrounding Indian tribes.

Nearly two years after the fact, Steve Robertson, chief of Wildlife and Sports Fish Restoration, a program within Fish and Wildlife, says federal officials are "working with Arizona Game and Fish and hoping to engage the tribes."

There has been one meeting, in August at the Trail Riders Restaurant in Eagar, and a few letters exchanged, but little has been accomplished.

Instead, the discussion has been marked by disagreement over what steps should be taken first. And who's going to pay for them. Fingers have been pointed, and the tribes feel that state and federal officials don't fully appreciate the spiritual connection between the prehistoric bones and area tribes, including the Zuni and Acoma, each with reservations in New Mexico and ancestors who dwelt in what is now Arizona.

Some of the bones, collected improperly, are piled in a box stored in an Eagar Town Hall office. The rest, visible on the surface of the site, were slated for collection, but two of the four tribes objected that the proposed plan didn't go far enough. Zuni and Hopi tribal leaders wanted piles of dirt sifted so all the bones could be collected. Since such a plan wasn't under official consideration during the single meeting, everything stalled.

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19 comments
carinad_7
carinad_7

This is wrong on so many levels. The handful of people who hold a share of the blame are quick to dismiss it as someone else's mistake instead of taking accountability for their wrongdoing when that's the bare minimum expected of them at this point. It's a disgrace. The most disgusting part about this is not the excavation but the number of people who had the opportunity to stop the damage but chose to look the other way. Native people are constantly ignored and dismissed. They've been battered by this country and its policies from the very beginning because they were never made to benefit them. We natives have been suffering emotionally, culturally and physically since colonization and this goes to show how our relationship with the mainstream society continues to regress and spiral into oblivion.

loosecannonsbluesban
loosecannonsbluesban

And Faux News says there's a war on Christmas - what a crock!  Here's where the real culture wars are being fought.

mbonnaha23
mbonnaha23

@ALL YOU DISRESPECTFUL NON-EDUCATED PEOPLE, WHO STEREOTYPE WE NATIVE AMERICANS....LEARN FROM THIS ATTACHMENT.. FORTUNATELY OUR ANCESTORS TAUGHT US AT AN EARLY AGE ABOUT MORALITY AND KINDNESS... ALWAYS REMEMBER WE WELCOMED YOUR ANCESTORS TO THIS LAND, FED THEM, YET , THEY STILL TURNED THEIR BACKS ON US AND TOOK WHAT HAD NOT BEEN THEIRS...WHEN WILL IT EVER BE ENOUGH??? THIS IS VALIDATION THAT SOME PEOPLE ARE SO FUCKING IGNORANT, LISTENING TO THE MONOPOLIZED TEXT BOOKS....HAHA I BET YOU, THE DISRESPECTFUL BASTARDS, THINK COLUMBUS DISCOVERED AMERICA!!! LET A NATIVE ENLIGHTEN YOUR ASS!!! KITTY KNOWS WHAT'S UP....WE PUEBLOS MADE YOU COWBOYS, COWBOYS, BY RELEASING AN IMPORTANT ANIMAL FREE, THE HORSE ....LOOK THAT REAL SHIT UP....AND STOP LISTENING TO FAIRY TALES, AND BE A INDIVIDUAL WITH SOME DAMN COMPASSION....

mbonnaha23
mbonnaha23

THIS EARTH IS PRECIOUSHow can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?ALL SACREDEvery part of this earth is sacred to my people.Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.The white man's dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it is the mother of the red man.We are part of the earth and it is part of us.The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers.The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man--all belong to the same family.NOT EASYSo, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves.He will be our father and we will be his children. So we will consider your offer to buy our land.But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us.This shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors.If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people.The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.KINDNESSThe rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes, and feed our children. If we sell you our land, you must remember, and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs.The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on.He leaves his father's graves behind, and he does not care.He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care.His father's grave, and his children's birthright, are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads.His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.I do not know. Our ways are different from your ways.The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a savage and does not understand.There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring, or the rustle of an insect's wings.But perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand.The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night? I am a red man and do not understand.The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of a pond, and the smell of the wind itself, cleaned by a midday rain, or scented with the pinion pine.PRECIOUSThe air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath--the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath.The white man does not seem to notice the air he breathes.Like a man dying for many days, he is numb to the stench.But if we sell you our land, you must remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh.And if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where even the white man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow's flowers.ONE CONDITIONSo we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I will make one condition: The white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers.I am a savage and I do not understand any other way.I've seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train.I am a savage and I do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be more important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive.What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit.For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.THE ASHESYou must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin.Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother.Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know.All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it.Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.We may be brothers after all.We shall see.One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover, our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal for the red man and the white.This earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator.The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man.That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires.Where is the thicket? Gone.Where is the eagle? Gone.The end of living and the beginning of survival.Patrick. -- Responses Sought --[Given the seeming non-sequitur relationship between title and topic here, perhaps an explanation is warranted.To begin with, this eMail wasn't written as a journal entry. I just tacked it in here because it fit so well. Back when I was still a Microserf, the weekly task of organising a table at the local beer hall large enough to hold that Friday's contingent of over-worked and thirsty techno-dweebies somehow fell into my hands. It was probably just something that needed to be done and when volunteers were called for I forgot to step backward with everyone else. "We have a winner!"So every Friday around noon, as soon as I got into work, I'd send out practically company-wide eMail (the Vancouver office had 

fairymagic13
fairymagic13

You, like many people of this world, are ignorant of the information and history contained in these sites.  All you know is the consumer oriented existence created for you by your corporate masters.  Over 20,000 years of human history, knowledge of traditional medicines, and just plain how to live your daily life on this planet in a comfortable manner WITHOUT MODERN TECHNOLOGY are retained by the act of preserving and respecting these sites.  At any moment, the Sun could reach out and touch this planet or any other possible calamity could occur (nuclear war, biological disaster, global warming, etc.) could occur and the survivors will need this information.  It is the ability to use our intelligence (primarily the ability to recognize and manipulate patterns) to adapt that has served humans well over all these years.  The relatively new technology (less than 200 years) that we use today may not be with us in the near future and we will need the information conserved by indigenous peoples throughout the world to survive and thrive on this wonderful planet.  While I'm sorry for you in your ignorance, you can resolve to learn more about native religions, traditions and rituals and stop treating other cultures with disrespect.  I urge you to do so.

Sedonasherpa
Sedonasherpa

Sedona has had some Sinagua sites getting looted right under the noses of the Red Rock Rangers...Less than 1.5 miles from the USFS HQ...this site was looted. (photos are at the end of the youtube vid)USFS has full time Rangers squadron but the clowns never leave the office...and even a full time archeologist on the clock...FBI up in Flagstaff chasing Indians and home-made beer! Meanwhile, clay pots and projectile points being sold on Ebay. Sinagua goes back 200 years +/- 500 yearshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHAneUys63I&list=UL

msweetwyne
msweetwyne

This is outrageous I wonder what would happen to me if I rented a bulldozer and went to these peoples local graveyard and started scraping up peoples grandparents and great grandparents graves. I wonder what's going to happen to the people responsible for this appalling act. Why didn't they stop when they saw there were human remains. This land clearly is a sacred burial ground to the Zuni people. I know this place was a village that was taken by the Spanish and not returned by the Americans. The Zuni people are alive and well and still have their culture intact they still speak their ancient language they still have their religion and  they believe in respect for all people. This is not the first time in that area this has happened. A schoolteacher from the town of St. John's just a few miles north of  Eagar took his students on a field trip to raid sacred Zuni shrines on Zuni land. There's also a great deal of grave robbing by people looking for artifacts like pottery and jewelry. This is been going on for quite some time and needs to be stopped!

dgilmour101
dgilmour101

Let me begin by expressing my dismay at this inexcusable desecration of human remains.  The failure of the many agencies involved, both State and Federal, to follow common and well established guidelines for cultural resource management, as well as blatant disregard for existing law, is shameful.  I hope a thorough review will focus both on individual and institutional culpability, and will reach to the proper level of oversight, rather than scapegoating those at the bottom of the decision making process.  It is clear that institutional reform is necessary for the future, including formal designation of responsibility among the contributing parties.  This project never should have proceeded to the ground disturbance stage without a Memorandum of Agreement in place to allow for  "unexpected discoveries".  In the meantime, plans for reinterment should be the priority for all concerned, not job security or budgetary considerations. 

jester.jackson
jester.jackson

This is what happens when you have incompetent people in charge.  Arizona has many natural resources and sacred sites that need to be protected for the enjoyment of future generations as well.  They need to fire those people which is what would happen if they had real jobs, not government jobs where an, "we should have known better.." is enough of an excuse to give you a pass.

Pinche Wes
Pinche Wes

My ex is Zuni. I hate to hear shit like this.

azwaverider
azwaverider

It's a matter of respect. They do not force their culture on others, there is no reason for others to force theirs on them...unfortunatly the "others" always seem to do the forcing...

mav.maveth
mav.maveth

Well, when you have cultures who seem to be obsessed with death, I guess they do get upset when bones get strewn around. Those of us who are actually obsessed with life don't particularly see the problem.

I personally would like to see *ALL* graveyards the world over dug up, the bones crushed/cremated/whatever, and the useless land put to use growing food or for other purposes...

ExpertShot
ExpertShot topcommenter

Reminds me of the joke about the famous rabbi who prayed at the Wailing Wall every day for over 60 years.  When asked what it was like he said "It's like talking to a brick wall."!

sarum
sarum

@carinad_7 mmmm . . . why R there so many wannabe's polluting places like Sedona?  Now people are owning minute amounts of heritage whereas a couple generations back people pretended to be anything but, NDN?  Disgusting that the only part of our government/business community that does work effectively is the part that separates wage workers from their hard-earned money and the rubber stamping of the criminality by those holding office.  We are all becoming NDN's quickly now.  Conversely, I am seeing some wins lately and been laughing that if I need an attorney I don't want a Jewish one, I want an NDN one!  The poisonous legacy of socio-psychic destruction IS very real and IS passed on to next generation - I get it - but still there are bright spots.

sarum
sarum

@Sedonasherpa Sedona should have been National Park.  Government forfeits development rights through repeated offenses.  Make NDN job creation for guarding, developing and tourism of these sites (when & where appropriate.)  Buffy St Marie sang "now that my life's to be known as your heritage" but those too blind to see cannot protect their adopted heritage.

sarum
sarum

@mav.maveth NDN ancestors are more active in this dimension than other ancestors.  Why I do not know.  I for one can no longer accept Bible truth on this count.  NDN ancestors have saved me and mine from death many X.  So I do not worship them but I am mindful or at least try to be.  They R always in our thoughts and in life we consider their preferences in much that we do from cooking to child-rearing - how we work . . . .   I have tried to post this truth multiple times but VOICE NATION keeps rejecting.  WHY?  1 not red apple plus 1 IHOP here.

toosweetkittybeckman
toosweetkittybeckman

@mav.maveth god bless u and may u be re educated zuni is were the heart of the earth residedes and ur comment is a insault to.ur own life and.burial site. Year round zunis pray fr ignorat people that pay no mind to indigenous people like use we were nt brought here on a bus, plane or ship we originated fr here this is our gods creation and gift , death and living deserve respect learn it live it. Take a walk in zuni and see how.real humble people live without , ways of ur world because when all is said and done we were prayn and fasting so u cud be made outta ur daddys nut stain, do research before commenting stop being cofused and fake and see were u originated from death waits for everyone and when its ur time crush ur own skull n tell me how u feel after and post it.

bigbabyjohnus
bigbabyjohnus

@mav.maveth 

I can appreciate your sentiment, land should be put to the service of the living when it is practicable and appropriate. However, please do not fail to realize that the Zuni and Hopi, as well as all other Indians who claim these remains as their ancestors are in fact real, living people.

I think the article makes it clear that they derive something useful from the continued preservation of such sites. I won't be so presumptuous as to say I understand specifically what this site means to them, but I'll venture to say that most humans, no matter what culture they belong to, regard spiritual satisfaction as an important part of life. So is land only useful if it is growing things or used to make things? Is there no value in places to reflect, to remember those who went before us? Places to be human? Or places that we intentionally don't visit or use, rather just allow them to follow their natural course without us?

The problem is that allowing this ancient site to remain in place did not have to conflict with putting land to use for a fishing pond. Why this specific location for the pond and not somewhere else? Surely there are suitable locations nearby that aren't on top of ancient burials. Both "uses" could have been easily accommodated if the slightest amount of respect had factored into the agencies' planning process. It did not, and now we have neither pond nor intact sacred site.

I would also challenge your characterization of these cultures as "obsessed with death." They have always struck me as extraordinarily vibrant and resilient. We are talking about people who by all historical rights should no longer exist thanks to outside persecution. Yet, they remain, and among them are some of the most joyful and generous people I have ever known.

For the record, I am not in any way opposed to the idea of building this pond. I applaud it, in fact. I only wish it had been executed with a shred of respect.

 
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