Although upset by a completely off the wall if not bizarre statement in an Editorial in Two Row Times (16 March 2016, page 6) entitled, Our bones threaten them, I agree with most of what the author says.
The Editor makes the point that there are thousands of Native American skeletons housed in boxes in museums across North America. Of this there can be no denying. I also agree that it is (at least in today's view) disrespectful to treat human remains in this way. To add my opinion, the remains should be studied (and DNA tests be done to learn the stories about health and ancestry which the bones can tell us), ultimately they must be returned to the lineal descendants. If this is not possible, then they should be buried with due ceremony in the location in which they were found.
The editor cites the work of Samuel J. Redman who estimates that there are about half a million Native American remains held in various repositories in the USA and Canada, and an equal number in museums in Europe. I believe that this figure is on the high side, but there is no argument from me that there are large numbers, widely distributed throughout the Americas and to some degree Europe. The Editor then makes a rather odd (and unsupported) statement as follows: This figure does not account for indigenous remains stolen by Canadian scientists and officials. It is unclear what the author means here, although clearly the word "stolen" is emotionally loaded. Does this mean that there is some secret repository where aboriginal remains are being studied for some unspecified purpose. In the natural course of events, scientists publish their findings, that is how they justify their existence.
It is not long ago that pot hunting, which included grave robbing and keeping skulls for "trophies", was common in this area (Niagara Peninsula). It upset me to no end to know that these moral imbeciles were desecrating ancestors graves and there was nothing I could do about it. The police had no authority on private land; and frankly few Natives at the time (e.g., 1970s and 80s) seemed to care. Some local residents other than myself were of course outraged but powerless to do anything. Many quietly "did the right thing" when remains were discovered inadvertently (e.g., bones being unearthed during basement renovations, the bones being re interred as close to the home, the original burial site, as was practical. Still the grave robbers continued unrestrained by morality or law. The laws (e.g., Cemeteries Act) and views of what is acceptable have fortunately changed, and now there can be very stiff fines (e.g., $10,000) from someone who knowingly disturbs a human grave. The only people permitted to dig in a known site of cultural significance are licensed archaeologists. If the site is determined to have any First Nations link, then the local aboriginal group(s) will be contacted and invited to help oversee the work. Hence these days the representatives of the Six Nations Elected Council and the Mississauga of New Credit will be paid overseers. Although untrained, the Haudenosaunee Development Institute often demand to be present and paid - but that is another story, and one about which I have blogged about in the past.
The Editor goes on to discuss a rather obnoxious "papal bull" which justified taking property belonging to "pagans" and the like. Full agreement here, the papacy justified the oppression and slavery of indigenous people via such Vatican nonsense, but it had absolutely no influence on the Protestant British - who settled what is today Ontario and who were early on antagonistic towards any Catholic pronouncements. However the Editor states, Anyway, this stupid papal order must also have included the theft of bones because it continues to this day. That does not make sense, and seems tinged with a bit of paranoia. I know many of these (former) pot hunters / grave robbers and their motives were strictly personal (similar to collectors of baseball cards), but often the more principled of the group included a desire to learn more about the past of this country, and some donated their "finds" to local museums and the like since it seemed the proper thing to do (to their way of thinking).
The depth of "suspiciousness" and conspiracy theory thinking escalates with claims that,
Although the Doctrine of Discovery was upheld in Johnson v. McIntosh which was a 1841 Supreme Court case, there must have been other, deeper reasons why our settler friends have been stealing our bones like grave robbing thugs. Maybe it is because "Indian bones" are evidence in a colossal crime scene. If Henry F. Dobyns was correct, upwards of 90 million innocent humans were killed here in the least talked about genocide in human history.
I will pause here to explain that Dobyns was an anthropologist and demographer who is known as a "high counter". In other words the scientific community considers his numbers to be on the high side when in fact we do not know what the early Native population of the Americas was in fact. We only have very skewed estimates. There are three points I wish to make in relation to the Editor's take on things:
1) No matter how you slice things, Dobyns and every other author acknowledges that diseases inadvertently introduced by Europeans killed off the vast majority of how ever many people were here say 1500 AD.
2) In North America there were few documented cases of genocidal action by Europeans, and those involved at most a few hundred people. There were brutal wars such as King Phillip's War in 17th century New England. However, it needs to be noted that the Europeans were guided by and accompanied by Native allies who exacted their revenge against Native enemies. The English did not act alone. Furthermore, the aboriginals were doing precisely the same thing against the settler groups where whole communities were wiped off the face of the earth in barbaric no quarter given acts of genocide. There may be some justification for retaliation, but the scale at times on both sides was high - but nothing like what is suggested by the Editor above.
3) Closer to home, the only documented acts of genocide (things of this nature could not be "hidden" once European onlookers were present) were perpetrated by the Five (now Six) Nations! In what can be considered one of the most egregious and despicable acts of true genocide the perpetrators were the Five (now Six) Nations (which no doubt included my own direct ancestors). The Five Nations of what is today Upstate New York embarked upon wars of complete annihilation of their neighbours and enemies further afield, in what is often termed the "Beaver Wars". The process began in 1638 when the Seneca destroyed their neighbours to the west, the Wenro, whose survivors fled to the Huron / Wyandot near Georgian Bay. The primary conflicts took place between 1642 and 1657. During this time the Confederacy committed acts of genocide on the Huron Confederacy (leaving only a small group at Ancien Lorette near Quebec City, a cluster on Isle d'Orleans, and those who were able to flee to Christian Island then to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and beyond). The Wyandot Confederacy was completely demolished, and the 20,000 member Nation reduced to a handful. These were the "lucky" ones since the Attiwandaronk (Neurtal), Petun, Eries and others were largely murdered en mass, leaving a few souls for purposes of torture and cannibalism. The evidence was recorded by Jesuit priests who were witnesses, and cross validated by archaeologists who found the remains of mass graves and pieces of bone removed during the torture ritual. There were NO White people living in the area who could be blamed for these acts by later generations of apologists. Our Haudenosaunee ancestors were the perpetrators and the truth demands that we acknowledge the facts. It rather puts the recent charges against Canada of "cultural genocide" in perspective.
Later the Five Nations would turn their attention south and administer the same treatment against the Susquehannoc. For many years Southern Ontario and the Great Lakes region were devoid of any human beings because if not killed (or at times assimilated), the peoples of the area fled west to avoid the inevitable. So when one wants to discuss "genocide" lets look at the home front first. There is no doubt that the Five Nations committed the most hideous and vile acts of genocide, which would fortunately never be repeated in North America by any group at any time.
The Editor then asks the question, Does Canada and the U.S. have something to hide? The answer is a resounding NO, but apparently the Six Nations do since no one seems to call a spade a spade. The Beaver Wars involved true genocide committed by the Five (now Six) Nations - we need to acknowledge this and quit blaming Canada for the ill defined term "cultural genocide". Lets look at real genocide first, and who is the guilt party.
So before Canada and the U.S.A. are blamed for some conspiracy of silence to ensure that people will keep mum on the genocide of countless millions of Native Americans we need to look at the facts - not myth and belief. When we do that it is the Six Nations who are to be seen in a very unfavourable light - as the only group to have committed true, verifiable, acts of wanton genocide. Always look in the mirror before looking beyond.
At the end of it though, I absolutely agree with the Editor that the bones of the ancestors need to rest in peace, and eventually be returned to the soil from which they came. A point well taken, and kudos to the Editor for bringing this matter to the fore.