Since the discovery of the Americas, Native Americans have faced discrimination against their burial grounds, ancestors’ remains and religion. America’s beginning bears the blemish of intolerance, segregation and prejudice inflicted on Native Americans. In more recent times Native Americans have advocated for regulations to be put in place to protect them and their ancestors from the discrimination they have so long endured. While they have made some headway, there is still much more to be accomplished.
Native Americans lived predominantly untouched by the rest of the world up until Columbus’s discovery of America. (Echo-Hawk, Foster, and Parker 2004) “Columbus brought old- world attitudes of religious intolerance to this hemisphere, and introduced the notion that the religions of Europe are superior to those of this hemisphere”. His discovery of America ushered in a new era for Natives. An era plagued with hardship, injustice and exploitation. Native’s rights were a casualty when nations from the Old World began the colonization of America. Not only were natives forced, often with violence, to cede their lands but they also lost the right to their ancestors buried in that land. (Russell 2007) James Riding In, a Pawnee historian, coined the phrase “imperial archaeology, the European proposition that the European “discovery” of the Americas conferred the right not only to the soil but also the people buried in that soil”. Sadly this is only the beginning of the abuse Native Americans have suffered.
To Natives (Pettifor 1995) “. . . the people of prehistory are regarded as ancestors and very strongly related. For them a keenly felt issue is that of respect.” They are very spiritual people who hold certain beliefs regarding their dead and the journey from this world to the afterlife. Exhuming ancestral remains is regarded as (Echo-Hawk et al. 2004) “one of the greatest atrocities committed against” Natives. Steve Russell (2007) includes a statement by Riding-In describing what Natives believe about their deceased ancestors, ". . . the dead should rest in peace. Many Indians assert that disinterment stops the spiritual journey of the dead, causing the affected spirits to wander in limbo . . . reburial within Mother Earth enables the disturbed spirits to resume their journey”. Resonating with Riding In’s statement Eric Pettifor (1995) quotes Cecil Antone, “. . . [the dead] has done his work in this world and he is going to another world to go back to the mother earth where we all came from . . . if he is disturbed he is out there, wandering, his spirit is not fully with the mother earth . . .”
Natives have different views from those who don't understand their religion and traditions. They have a certain respect for their ancestors and are deeply sadden when their ancestors are disrespected. The European mindset is that (Pettifor 1995) “if the grave is ancient, descendants of the deceased themselves long buried, the original community lost even to memory, then it is fair to dig it.” Natives are completely against halting a spirits transformation to the afterlife. Natives want Europeans to stop the mistreatment of their dead and ask for respect towards their ancestor’s remains and burial sites. They (Russell 2007) “do not ask Europeans to believe what [they] believe, but [they] ask that [their] dead be treated the same way European dead are treated.”
Archaeologists and other scientists have a real concern about regulations supporting reburial. They believe if the remains are reburied then the (Pettifor 1995) “destruction of data is analogous to the burning of libraries.” But to Natives reburial is important, because if the remains are not returned to the earth then the spirit will be trapped. Reburying an ancestors remains brings joy to Natives because the Natives have (Echo-Hawk et al. 2004) “. . . removed the spirits of [their] ancestors from those