— Marcia Pablo (Salish/Kootenai NW Montana)In the field of ethnography, for too long we have watched the extraction of our traditional knowledge
from our elders - knowledge used not to benefit our people but to launch a professional career or create
a "professional expert" on our tribal lifeways. These careers have been built on the shoulders of our elders,
the true Ph.Ds of our culture.
For the Nation there is an unrequited account of sin and injustice
that sooner or later will call for national retribution.
— George Catlin
September 29, 1999 | October 12, 2000 (colonialism) | July 25, 2001 (American holocaust)
January 5, 2002 (grave desecration) | July 5, 2002 (Yanomami genocide)
January 4, 2004 (An Answer to Johnson and Haley) | May 20, 2004 (Ishi)
June 13, 2004 (No Brave Champion) | June 21, 2004 (No Brave Champion - cont'd)
June 26, 2004 (Thanks Clay Singer) | July 20, 2004 (Chinigchinich) | August 11, 2004 (Art and Science)
February 23, 2005 (Rock Art and Science) | June 6, 2005 (Australia) | July 16, 2005 (Who Stole Indian Studies?)
October 11, 2005 (Vine Deloria, Jr. on Anthropology) | March 9, 2006 (Archaeology Answerable)
April 14, 2006 (Postscript: the two Custers) | January 26, 2007 (Minik) | April 7, 2007 (Chumash "risk minimization")
Ethics and Archaeology (April 12, 2008) | Negative Capability (summer solstice 2009)
Secrets of the Tribe (November 9, 2011)
On January 25, 1992, Chumash clan members met at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History to discuss the misuse of mission genealogies that led to misrepresentations they believe have harmed their people. Attending the meeting were museum director Dennis Power, Leslie Power, anthropologists Steve Craig and John Johnson, archaeologist Clay Singer and Phil Holmes of the Park Service. Among the Chumash present were: Kote Lota (who invited me to the meeting), his wife A-lul’Koy and John Ruiz of the Owl clan; Sal Perez, Redstar and Mati Waiya of the Turtle clan; Charlie Cooke of the Eagle clan; Pilulaw Khus of the Northern Bear clan; Choy Slo of the Blackbird clan; Lydia Rodriguez, Anwai Wilanci (Shoshone) and Alan White Bear, chairman of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation. Some drove many miles from San Luis Obispo, Santa Ynez, Santa Paula and Thousand Oaks to attend the meeting.
At issue was a reluctance by certain anthroplogists to regard the Chumash as Chumash, an attitude based on research in mission archives that the Chumash regard as insulting. Along with the insistence of some that this is none of the museum’s business, it was pointed out that mission records only offer a fragment of the whole picture, at times quite inaccurate, and that only they, the Chumash, know these intricate family ties in full – information they regard as totally private.
The Spaniards responsible for the mission records totally ignored clan organizations. Mixed residency at mission San Fernando, mission San Gabriel and Fort Tejon makes the existing records, based most often on the mother’s name, misleading at best. There was anger expressed at the meeting over insinuations that they are not Chumash based on this faulty data, and all desired to establish equally as good relations with the museum as they have with the Park Service. It was agreed that there was a need for the scientists to broaden their understanding of the meaning of ”Chumash”.
Many complaints have been leveled at John Johnson over this issue, the latest being one that led to this meeting stemming from a conversation he had with Phil Holmes. Steve Craig said that the museum should recruit and not exclude people from the community, which happens when one person of Chumash origin not acknowledged by the others as representing them is regarded by the museum as the representative of the Chumash. Kote Lota, creator of the Shalawa Meadow Medicine Circle, calls such a person a ”pet Indian” and felt that such preferential treatment excludes the rest of the Chumash community. The anthropologist in question he saw as a ”nuisance”. Speaking directly to John Johnson, Kote said, ”You are hurting a lot of people – a lot of families.”
John Ruiz, Kote’s half-brother, was irritated at how relations with the museum had deteriorated since the death of Travis Hudson and the tomol (plank canoe) project a few years ago, when the participants were denoted as ”Chumash” when it suited the museum’s publicity needs. But now they are humiliated by on-going insinuations from the museum that they are not Chumash. All present were very upset over this.
Clay Singer pointed out how early anthropology made an attempt to classify the world’s races into white, red, black, etc., and how this was grounded in scientific ignorance. This becomes a key issue in view of legal questions concerning the repatriation of native artifacts and skeletal remains in museums to their original cultures. Posing the question, ”Are there pure-blooded English, Germans or anything else?”, Clay answered that there is no such thing as a pure-blooded anything, for the nature of human society is to ”bleed and breed” over national boundaries.
Charlie Cooke spoke of his thirty-three years of struggles to be recognized as who he is, and stated, ”We are the most likely descendants to receive the artifacts, regardless of what tribes may represent our ancestry.” Addressing this point, Clay Singer said that legally, even a full-blooded Norwegian, if accepted into the tribal group as a bonafide member, is entitled to all the benefits the law provides the group. Genetically determining who is and who is not Chumash is a futile snipe hunt, a chimera that can never be caught. As for another misconception, someone exclaimed: ”We don’t like being called Indians. Indians are in India.”
The grievances that culminated on this day have been building up for years, with other unforgotten incidents in the past as their source. Among these was an LA Times article based on an interview with John Johnson in which ethnographic information was misused. A-lul’Koy said that it was degrading to have strangers scrutinizing one’s family and making decisions about private matters that only her people are qualified to make. She stated that things her "auntie” told her about her family tree contradict the mission records. John Johnson examined the mission records for her family as well as those for her husband Kote’s family. Earlier, he told the present writer that Kote was not Chumash and things Kote said about his ancestry should be ”taken with a grain of salt.” This is a roundabout way to call a man a liar, and Kote is understandably offended.
No one brought up the point that it was, at the very outset, gestures of ill-will towards the Chumash that resulted in these coveted mission records, an insult by the Spanish colonizers to an entire culture. (At San Juan Capistrano mission, the Spanish priest Boscana referred to the Acjachemen people as ”monkies”.) A-lul’Koy added that her people live to protect the land, its sacred sites and the burial grounds which have already been desecrated. She did not want her grandchildren to have to fight the museum to be recognized.
Redstar, who recently released two tame condors in the back country of Ventura county, regretted that the oldest of the elders have not ”come out” because of this official attitude towards the Chumash community, which fosters fear and apathy. One old Saticoy aunt of his used to prepare ceremonial herbs, but no longer. Redstar said that this traditional knowledge is needed today. He showed all present his infant daughter, who is genetically part of both cultures, and lamented that she and her children might still have to continue the tedious struggle for recognition.
John Ruiz indignantly asked: ”Why do we have to prove to you who we are?” and Steve Craig admitted that it was ”a tremendous invasion of privacy” to delve into old records and draw conclusions about living people and their families. Choy Slo believed that John Johnson ”acted in a malicious manner towards our nation.” Museum director Dennis Power acknowledged there was room for improvement.
The misunderstandings come from the written word – the inflexible written word. Clay Singer pointed out the gap between the two cultures present at the meeting, the one used to written records and the other to the oral tradition. Scientists usually believe written records to be the more accurate of the two, but Pilulaw claimed the oral tradition was the more accurate. Perhaps Pilulaw was alluding to the unending stream of falsehoods recorded in print generation after generation in the occident.
Speaking in defence of his besieged colleague, Steve Craig said that until Chumash artifacts and human remains at the museum are repatriated to the Chumash, it is the role of the museum staff to protect the interests of the anthropologists as well as the artifacts. He blamed zealous land-developers and journalists for eliciting information from John Johnson and then misusing it, and believed that John Johnson needed to be ”protected”. Kote Lota then asked if John Johnson was that terribly naive. Kote complained of christian ”pet Indians” who have little knowledge of traditional Chumash values stepping into the limelight and speaking on behalf of people who do not acknowledge their authority to do so. Mati Waiya added: ”**** does not represent us,” referring to a person of Chumash descent who had collaborated with John Johnson.
Finally, the main purpose of the meeting was on the table. However unwillingly, John Johnson offered an apology to the Chumash present, as he apologized years ago for a damaging LA Times article that hurt many people. (The museum’s official minutes of this meeting do not mention this apology.) The general feeling was that it was hoped a third apology will never be needed. Johnson was thanked ironically for having united all the Chumash clans in a way that they have been seldom united. Normally, the Chumash community keeps a low profile, and even anthropologists know little of their activities. But, as Mati Waiya put it, once burial grounds are desecrated or other offences committed, they emerge in defence of their homeland with a very determined sense of purpose. They asked the museum to have a better idea of what is happening in the Chumash community at large, to have more empathy with real, living human beings, and not mere scientific concern for a culture officially deemed extinct.
Clay Singer suggested that a cultural anthropologist could act as liaison between the Chumash community and the museum, thought by all to be a good idea. When asked by Kote if he would like to be this liaison, Clay politely declined. Choy Slo was most often silent, but when he chose to speak, his voice reverberated authoritatively with thousands of years of Chumash culture. He wished to emphasize the gravity of this issue, gravity which has consistently been ignored by American society and anthropologists studying them. Should the offences continue, and this grave situation be regarded in a nonchalant manner, Choy Slo spoke of ”other levels of war.” As quiet testimony to the gravity of his words, Alan White Bear, war chief of all the clans, stood in the back with his arms folded, listening to every word. Choy Slo added: ”We are the keepers of the Western Gate,” a reference to Point Conception, one of the most sacred sites in the Chumash realm.
Kote Lota has told me that Humqaq (Point Conception) is not only sacred to the Chumash, but to tribes all over California, and even to the Shinnecock of Long Island on the Atlantic coast. On a visit a few years ago, Kote exchanged ceremonial gifts with a Shinnecock elder. The Shinnecock are the keepers of the Eastern Gate: Montauk Point. (On my way out to Montauk Point in 1972 on a camping trip, I was arrested and sent to jail in East Hampton for disobeying a ”No Trespassing” sign posted on the beach.)
Choy Slo summed up by saying that the balance tips in favor of thousands of years of habitation of this land, as opposed to less than two short centuries of American presence in California. Looking at the museum spokesmen, Choy Slo said: ”You work for us.”
The meeting was coming to an end. Some had very long drives back home and had to leave earlier than the rest. Kote Lota commented that by the end of the day, all Chumash in all counties would know what had happened at the meeting – that is how fast news spreads. One of the last people to speak was Lydia Rodriguez, a close relative of **** . She was brief, saying only that **** does not speak for the entire family, adding: ”She hurt me by what she had to say,” and then left the room in tears.
Copyright © Theo Radic´ 1999
Postscript September 29, 1999
What John Anderson refers to as the ”California holocaust” presents a painful dilemma for all who choose to know their homeland in depth and confront it. For Native Californians, it is a subject of anger and ongoing suspicion of the American Dream. For Euro-Americans it can only be an issue of shame. Most refuse to shoulder this shame, feeling the painful burden too much to endure. And so, they choose to be proud instead. Gregg Castro, from the Salinian people near Salinas, has written that it is very difficult for most Americans to undergo what he calls a ”grief ritual”. For Euro-Americans, this involves a bitter confrontation with the atrocities and genocides of our history hiding behind the flattering lies and patriotic pride that we were force-fed in school.
This ritual is usually full of emotion and pain. It is obviously very disturbing to some people. I think the reason Native Americans do this is to see if there is any empathy. This is not usually a planned, conscious act. Through this ritual, Native Americans can measure the reverence and respect that others have for one’s heritage.Among those Americans who find this ”grief ritual” difficult or impossible to undergo, are included even anthropologists and archaeologists who ”study” native cultures. One such culture studied by the anthropologists was the Yahi (now extinct). For unexplainable reasons, Ishi, the last Yahi, was not allowed a final sacred rest by the anthropologists - even in death. Does it matter that this ghoulishness excuses itself because it is carried out "in the name of science"? At his death in 1916, Ishi's brain was removed and sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. The scientific information thus obtained (whatever that may have been) was regarded as more important than the most rudimentary respect granted the dead all over the world. Anthropologist Orin Starn's research eventually led him to the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum where he beheld Ishi's brain: "Ishi's brain was right there in Tank 6 of the Wet Collection [...] There were thirty-two other brains floating in the stainless steel tank, each in a cheesecloth sack tied with a plastic accession tag. [...] At the same time, I knew it was much more than happenstance that Ishi's brain had ended up in the Smithsonian. Alfred Kroeber had sent the brain there knowing that Alex Hrdlika was amassing brains for scientific study." (American Indian Quarterly Summer/Fall 2005) It took almost one hundred years for Ishi's remains to be released by the scientists for a proper burial by Native Californians. This criminal betrayal of a friend is perhaps the greatest shame Alfred Kroeber's memory shall have to bear. This is the trangsgression for which anthropology is answerable.
Gregg Castro, ”Educating Ourselves About Archaeology”, News from Native California, Summer 1996
[Note: In the occident reverence for the dead is not always a given fact. The irreverent treatment given Ishi’s remains evokes many similar cases in our culture, a long tradition of intellectual necrophilia, whether for reasons of dissection, religious mummification or sheer perverse curiosity. Perverse curiosity led to Mozart’s presumed skull, dug up 10 years after his burial, being handled as a curio by many people for over 200 years after his death, to this very day. Mozart’s skull changed owners several times as a bauble that was bought and sold. (Beethoven, Liszt, Schubert and Haydn all suffered the same indignity, their skulls stolen by students of phrenology and displayed by collectors.) After a century of such irreverent commerce, Mozart’s skull was put on display at the Mozart Museum in the city of his birth, Salzburg. It was on public display for 50 years, but today it is housed at the museum out of public view. Despite the fact that few if any people brought such glory to Austria as did Mozart, his memory is defiled by this academic necrophilia. It is like the supposed bones of Buddha that led to the founding of temples to house these relics, in total opposition to the Master’s teachings. After nearly 100 years, the American scientists came to their senses and allowed Ishi’s remains to be properly buried. 213 years after his death, Mozart has yet to be shown this respect in Austria.]
The above article has been included on this site in view of certain scholars who provide arguments helping to remove the sacred status from sacred domains for purposes of development. Much academic knowledge and pseudo-knowledge is being used to help pave the way for the commercialization of California’s last untouched natural beauty by sabotaging legitimate aboriginal claims in the legal process. This collaboration is unforgivable. To preserve this beauty is a sacred calling for all who love it, regardless of ethnic background.
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Update, October 12, 2000:
"Anthropology answerable" is also an issue dealt with in Current Anthropology (April 1999) by Les W. Field, in which he deems "anthropology complicit with colonialism", and "anthropologists...as formal instruments of the bureaucratic machinery". He begins his article thus: "California's statehood and assimilation into the United States during the 19th century were accompanied by genocide against the indigenous population; among those peoples that survived, a large number were officially eraced by a federal policy of nonrecognition in which anthropologists and anthropological knowledge played a role." Although Field is also an anthropologist, he expresses "outrage" over "anthropology's role in... historical injustices" that created unacknowledged tribes and disenfranchised Native Americans all over the country. He believes that anthropologists can help rectify these injustices. Bringing them to light may induce certain scholars to understand the harm they have caused, however unknowingly. By officially declaring the Ohlone of the San Francisco Bay Area and other living tribes "extinct", Alfred Kroeber as well was guilty of this academic complicity against the indigenous peoples of our state.
"The ethnography of Native America is a field dominated by male Euro-American scholars who rarely ask or care what the people they study have to say about their work. The fact that thousands of years of oral history preceded their work carries little weight in a society in which only written records comprise history. Even when considering the written records, the scholars often display historical amnesia in avoiding the wealth of documents that reveal the genocidal crimes of Manifest Destiny. They would like to believe that the mindless brutality (not only of soldiers and pioneers, but of science itself) is safely concealed in the past. American history reveals the exploitation of Native resources like timber and minerals without anything being given back to the Native American communities from which they were taken.In a similar manner, non-native scholars of Native America have extracted the resources of oral literature and history, profiting on them by attaining money and fame, often without returning anything to the Native American communities from which they were taken. We share the continent with them, and yet our own literature cannot attain the depth of saturation in its bedrock as that of Native America. Their ancient tradition of poetry is closer to the idea of the "Delphic oracle" issuing from the womb of the Earth herself, than much of the written poetry of our civilization.” (excerpt from The Whetting Stone)
One need not be an anthropologist to be knowledgable about indigenous American cultures and histories. The so-called ”objective observer” from the scientific community who in no way wishes to mix his own feelings with the native people he ”studies”, just may not see the forest for the trees. This thoroughly scientific approach led Alfred Kroeber and others to apply Freudian prejudices to the Yurok that could even include such deep insights as their being ”paranoid”, ”anal retentive”, or suffering from other psychoanalytical ailments.
The accompanying coldness and impudence of such scientific methods (that have offended many native people) may just mean that the best observers of these cultures have been non-anthropologists. For example, the historian Francesca Fryer’s in-depth trilogy, SANDSPIT, dealing with the Yurok and their interaction with white society, provides a more rounded, human, view of this culture than Kroeber’s. Not being an ”objective observer,” Ms. Fryer dares to mix her own life and feelings with her subject matter, and in doing so provides the reader with an emanation of living people absent from most anthropological texts. It just may be that culture is not at all something conducive to minute, a priori scientific study, but to random encounters and unexpected revelations that are part of the artistic process.
The artistic method of observing Native American cultures was used with astounding results by George Catlin, before there even was such a thing as anthropology. Franz Boas is generally considered the "father of anthropology" in North America. When I once suggested to an archaeologist in Santa Barbara that George Catlin in fact deserves this title, even though he was a mere artist, I was given an academic look that said: "Here is an ignorant fellow." I persist in my belief. The reasons for this belief can be read on my George Catlin page.
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Update, July 25, 2001:
Assuming full responsibility for these genocides is the most forbidden of all taboos in my country today, which, as everyone knows, has always acted on the side of ”good”. Some scholars have compared ”Manifest Destiny” with Hitler’s Lebensraumpolitik, and have revealed the horrifying similarities between these two ”master races”. They tell us that Hitler is known to have expressed admiration for the efficiency of the American genocide campaigns agains the First Nations, viewing it as a forerunner for his own plans for mass-extermination of the Jews.* Hitler’s plan was to conquer the world. Manifest Destiny was a plan to conquer the West. However, as one conquers one’s way westward, circumnavigation of the globe is the natural result of Manifest Destiny. Today, ”globalization,” ”global economy” and ”global culture” are all the end result of the destructive vision: Manifest Destiny. That is, Manifest Destiny is a dream about conquering the world, the same dream as that of Adolf Hitler – "the wholesale moral bankruptcy of the entire western world."(Lilian Friedberg)
(excerpt from Hitch-Hiker in Hades)
*”Dare to Compare: Americanizing the Holocaust,” Lilian Friedberg, paraphrasing Hitler’s biographer John Toland, American Indian Quarterly, Summer 2000. vol. 2 no. 3. Note: Ms Friedberg is both of Jewish and Native American origin.
Update, January 5, 2002:
The desecration of First Nation graves has occupied archaeologists and physical anthropologists for two centuries. Rumaging in the available archives, researchers are stumbling upon horror stories that make one cringe with shame as a citizen of this nation. The perpetrators are not only enraged Civil War generals, "injun killers" or scalp-hunting psychopaths, but highly respected men within the hierarchy of science. In the last half of the 19th century, the United States Surgeon General ordered that the heads of slain aboriginal warriors on the battlefield were to be rountinely severed and sent back to the Smithsonian Institution for scientific study. These heads, along with a vast number of skulls plundered from First Nation cemeteries, were compared with European skulls to prove the popular 19th-century theory "polygenism," in which First Nation peoples were scientifically declared "inferior" – evolved even from a different branch of evolution than the ethnologists studying them. The scientific demand for these aboriginal skulls was so great that a veritable mining operation was begun to meet the demands of phrenolgists, who purchased thousands of skulls to build "cranial libraries", leaving a wake of calamitous sorrow and desperation in the native villages thus defiled.
This contempt for the sanctity of the First Nations was normal policy for the government and the ethnologists whom they employed. For example, Alaska’s Konaig people have been (in vain) seeking justice from the Smithsonian Institution for over one hundred years. They request that over eight hundred of their ancestors brutally dug up from a village cemetery in 1900 be returned to them for proper reburial. The perpetrator of this crime was not a night-marauding necrophiliac, but none other than Alex Hrdlicka, esteemed founder of the Smithsonian Institution’s "division of physical anthropology". Before the very eyes of the horrified Konaig villagers, and with rigorous scientific exactitude, the ethnologist and his team dug up one grave after the other, shipping the eight hundred cadavers back to the nation’s capital where they remain to this day.
This official contempt for the First Nations went on to infect the ranks of 20th-century ethnographers. An old photograph from the beginning of the century reveals archaeologists Earl Morris and Jesse Walter Fewkes after a season of "field work". They stand like proud hunters behind baskets and boxes filled with human remains plundered from native cemeteries. In the foreground a row of skulls are lined up on the ground. One thinks of the terrible images from Cambodia’s "killing fields", remains of a ghastly genocidal crime for which the criminals are sought today by an international tribunal. The Pawnee writer James Riding In, a professor at Arizona State University, condemns what he calls "orgies of grave-robbing" that have disturbed the eternal rest of the Indigenous Peoples, rest that all peoples of the world desire for their dead. He sees these trespasses committed in the name of science as a "spiritual holocaust."
Such grim deeds have left terrible wounds among the indigenous people that remain unhealed even today. And the offenses continue, one hundred years after Hrdlicka’s crimes. In – not the 1890s – but the 1990s, unforgiveable outrages were routinely committed against the last aboriginal peoples of South America. In this the last decade of the millennium, the naturalist and adventurer Charles Brewer visited the Yanomami people, living a once-peaceful stone-age existence in the jungle between Venezuela and Brazil. Having been fashionable subjects for ethnologists already in the 1960s, the Yanomami were already scarred by contact with western science. Thirty years later, Brewer "bought" much Yanomami land for a big scale mining operation. During a few years, he had five thousand mine-workers flown in and out of the region, leaving behind them epidemics, alcohol, weapons and prostitution. In his book, Darkness in El Dorado , Patrick Tierney estimates that fifteen hundred Yanomami died as a result of the mining operation. This same author, who also lived among the Yanomami, writes of an apprentice of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Lizot, who established a private harem of native boys deep in the jungle where he was conducting "field work". (Perhaps this ghastly sexual aberration is deemed acceptable by the perpetrators because Plato himself was a practitioner.)
But the worst villain of Tierney’s very controversial book is the cultural anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, who arrived among the the Yanomami in 1964. Like the 19th-century ethnologists, Chagnon replaced honest scientifc methods with a preconceived idea of the inferiority of the Yanomami in relation to the Europeans. According to Patrick Tierney, Chagnon wrote of the Yanomami as a violent and aggressive people – "the fierce people". The book given this title became a best seller, and spread the author’s appraisal of a what he claimed to be a brutal, grim and treacherous people. When Patrick Tierney visited them twenty-five years after Chagnon, he was surprised to find a shy and hospitable people that did not fit his predecessor’s vicious portrait.
On the contrary, the brutal, grim and treacherous peoples – as most of us know by now – left Europe and populated the Americas by tyrannical force. Tierney writes that violence arrived among the Yanomami with Chagnon, who brought weapons and indiscriminately handed out gifts to some, denied them to others, thus causing internal strife. Worst of everything – a revelation that has made Tierney an outcast among established ethnologists – is Chagnon’s nonchalance in giving measles vaccinations. The vaccine contains a small amount of the measles virus which is effective in civilization. But the jungle people had different metabolisms, and instead around one hundred Yanomami became infected with measles and died. When Chagnon’s helicopter landed near an extremely remote jungle village, the village was destroyed in the machine’s winds and injured a number of Yanomami, some of whom had to be rescued from beneath fallen roofing and poles. The headman’s wife had such a pole rammed through her leg. The medicine men began ritual chants against an evil visitation from civilization. Chagnon went home to bathe in his fame, while leaving unanswered this vital question: what good reasons do anthropologists have to enter remote jungles and use these societies as their personal laboratories, doing them no good whatsoever?
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Update, July 5, 2002
By his [Chagnon’s] own account, the wars that made the Yanomami famous
began on the day he arrived in the field, November 14, 1964; also by his own
account, their worst epidemic started the day he returned after a long absence,
on January 22, 1968.
Patrick Tierney, Darkness in El Dorado
The science of anthropology – the study of mankind – has systematically avoided the most fundamental axiom of this study: know thyself. The proverbial "objective observer" of science does not, after all, observe himself. (Freud’s attempt at this poetic task is questionable.) This glaring error in methodology has led to much human suffering inflicted by anthropologists, just as the above quote by Patrick Tierney reveals the "collective agony" of the Yanomami of the Venezuelan jungles. Had Napoleon Chagnon and his colleagues devoted time to the axiom "know thyself," they would not have been pleased with the result, as we others are not pleased. For the Yanomami people, it would have been best if this anthropologist had never been born. They detested him, as is evident in the palm-frond effigy of Chagnon made by the Yanomami after his departure, which they shot full of arrows.
Seemingly harmless anthropological practices like establishing genealogies can cause great turmoil, as happened with the Chumash in California (see top of page), and with the Yanomami in Venezuela. The most taboo subject among the latter was to pronounce the names of the dead outloud. This is exactly what the anthropologist Chagnon forced them to do while making detailed genealogies of Yanomami ancestors. Chagnon was a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, in Chumash territory, where other anthropologists caused turmoil and rivalries among the Chumash by also making genealogies based on the taboo names of the dead.
The Yanomami could not understand the interest of this complete stranger in the names of their dead, unless it was for purposes of black magic and witchcraft. To name the dead among them was a grave insult, a cause for divisions and wars. This was precisely the result of the anthropologist Chagnon’s research in Yanomamiland, as Tierney coroborates: "Within three months of Chagnon’s sole arrival on the scene, three different wars broke out, all between groups who had been at peace for some time and all of whom wanted a claim on Chagnon’s steel goods." So covetous were they of steel machetes and axes, that tribesmen would trade their daughters for a blunt machete or axe. Inter-tribal accusations of black magic, all Chagnon’s doing, led to bloody wars among the Yanomami that did not exist among "the fierce people" (as Chagnon called them) before the arrival of the anthropologists.
Even worse, the measles vaccinations with the very dangerous Edmonston B virus, administered by Chagnon and others, left hundreds, maybe thousands dead, according to Tierney: "At that time , over three thousand Yanomami lived on the Ocamo headwaters; today there are fewer than two hundred." The evidence Tierney gathered points to one thing: the measles vaccine itself caused the devastating measles epidemic. "The scientists kept moving on and the epidemic moved on with them." The main purpose of the vaccinations was a clinical study on this isolated people who were used like white mice in acquiring scientific statistics – all for the personal advancement of the scientists. Most contemptible of all in this genocide was Chagnon’s supervisor in the measles vaccinations, the geneticist James Neel from the University of Michigan’s Department of Human Genetics.
Far from benefiting from Chagnon’s visits, the Yanomami culture, as Tierney states over and over again, was devastated. Although directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of human beings, his crimes go unpunished, when they indeed come down to mass murder of unequaled proportions. Chagnon became famous and prosperous at their expense. The Yanomami were the losers. Such is very often the case with the intrusion of anthropologists into peaceful tribal domains. Tierney’s investigation reveals crimes similar to nazi and Japanese medical experiments on living human beings during World War II. These crimes against humanity were knowingly committed under the guise of innoculating the Yanomami against measles, when in truth they were part of an experiment involving racial theories as aberrant as those of the nazis.
Although the geneticist James Neel was largely responsible for these crimes (which he deviously tried to cover up) the whole evil scientific project among the Yanomami fits perfectly into the frame of anthropology. As Tierney writes, the word anthro has become a part of Yanomami vocabulary, and is not a term of endearment. Although the Greek term means "man" or "human", the Yanomami understand "anthro" as a malevolent, "powerful non-human with deeply disturbed tendancies and wild eccentricities." One such "anthro", Jacques Lizot, was called Bosinawarewa by the Yanomami, which means Anus Eater. Lizot’s pedophilia became so notorious among the Yanomami, that they coined a new word for sodomy: Lizo-mou - "to do like Lizot." The child-molester Lizot's enterprise of 25 years among the Yanomami was funded by the French state.
In general, Venezuelans and Yanomami alike remembered the "anthros" for the most outrageous behavior, even though, as Tierney emphasizes, "these were normal anthropolgists." Like J.P. Harrington among the Chumash (who also practiced sodomy – on his wife) the anthropologists were extremely envious and competitive of each other’s work. The Venezuelan anthropologist Jesús Cardozo recalled: "Anthropologists were chasing each other around with shotguns. Each had his own fiefdom. Villages were named for Lizot and Chagnon, as though they were great Yanomami chiefs. And the anthropologists’ villages took on their personalities. Chagnon’s Yanomami were more warlike than any other group; Lizot’s village became the capital of homosexuality." *
Yet again, for these terrible deeds, for this utter disgrace, anthropology is answerable.
* Patrick Tierney, Darkness in El Dorado
W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2001
Napoleon Chagnon's response to Darkness in El Dorado, pdf 142 pages
Although Lizot is utterly contemptible, I also found Chagnon to be contemptible in the film. His arrogance and pride have seemingly not been effected by the harsh international criticism which he has faced. Nor his narcissism. In an interview he shamefully compared himself to Galileo, despite there being very much that puts him in another class than one of the greatest scientists of all time. While visiting Florence Chagnon stopped in front of the villa at Arcetri, where Galileo was condemned to house arrest in 1634 for heresy until his death in 1642. Chagnon said he looked up at the window on the second floor and, filled with self-pity, wished to believe that he too was being unjustly accused by an evil papal establishment which would require 400 years for exoneration. The documentary corroborates Tierney’s initial accusations made ten years ago. Chagnon believes that he, not the Yanomami, is the victim!
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My second Acta Americana article, an answer to Brian Haley’s attack in the same journal of my "Western Gate" article (see link below), has recently been published. Two additional articles by Haley and his colleague John Johnson have also been published in the same number of this journal, again attacking my credibility. I have no more time to spend on this debate. I steal time from my other projects nonetheless to inform my readers that Humqaq, also known as Point Conception, is a part of an oral Chumash tradition that is very likely thousands of years old. It is a vast symbol spanning millennia, like Avikwame on the Colorado river, the Mount Parnassus of the Aha Macav (Mohave) people.
The story of the Chumash Western Gate has the odor of extreme antiquity. BH persists in his losing battle to spread the lie that the Western Gate was recently “invented” by “neo-Chumash” who had problems with drugs, divorces and other human woes, and who, in their delirium, coined the term “western gate”. According to BH, these people live out their lives in self-delusion. Now he has seen his own problem. Only courage can help him to acknowledge it. His second attack on Dr. John Anderson, certain Chumash leaders, and myself, will prove to be his undoing. In my second article, he and JJ found errors I committed in the use of a Chumash name and incorrect dates for the native uprisings, and the rapes, floggings and tortures routinely committed on Native Californians at the missions and presidios. But as JJ concedes, these small errors do not effect my main point of contention with them: Humqaq is an extremely ancient phenomenon which has survived in an extremely ancient Chumash oral tradition. Neither BH nor JJ were able to deny this in their latest attack against me. However, JJ was able to mock my Slavic surname, Radic becoming Radic’al in the title of his article. Ho, ho, ho…
Now, to the crux of the matter: their theory that the Western Gate was invented in the 1970s by self-deluded misfits to whom they have given the name “neo-Chumash” will not be long-lived. JJ and BH both possess more factual knowledge about this culture than I. But they misuse their knowledge. BH again mocks me for having Humqaq as a sacred calling. He protests that a report written as a sacred calling is inappropriate for a scientific journal devoted to... yes, sacred callings in various aboriginal cultures throughout the Americas. This reasoning is hard to follow, and indeed appears utterly stupid. One of the journal’s main editors is Professor Emeritus Åke Hultkrantz , known throughout the world for his profound insights into the spiritual teachings of Native America. I was given full support by Prof. Hultkrantz in my second Acta Americana article. Apparently, BH believes he knows better than this firmly established patriarch of anthroplogy! J.P. Harrington’s astounding research among very many tribes throughout California can only be seen as a sacred calling for Harrington himself. Shall BH and JJ now mock Harrington for this “vice” as well?
Strangely, BH and JJ did not address the damning facts in Chumash spiritual leader Paul Pommier’s complaint in the appendix to my last article. “You must remember when a possum is cornered it becomes very vicious and has no where to go but to attack.” (Opening sentence of Paul Pommier’s complaint.) This complaint by a highly respected Chumash spiritual leader was not considered by BH and JJ because it would be very embarassing for them to do so. JJ would be obliged to explain why Paul Pommier, his former collaborator, chose to reevaluate his trust in JJ and revoke it. This respected spiritual leader is even acknowledged by the Doubting Thomas JJ as having impeccable genealogical proof of Chumash ancestry. He unequivocally denounces the use of the derogatory term “neo-Chumash” by these two anthropologists. Does not this clear-cut judgement of a widely respected Chumash spiritual leader register in your academic minds? Paul Pommier continues with his complaint: “Too often they have learned about our culture by scavenging from our ancestors’ graves.” JJ, curator at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, is well-aquainted with the boxes of human remains housed at the museum, as well as the rage this evokes in Chumash descendants today. “They have educated themselves by desecrating our burial lands.”
As for the blunder of BH, Paul Pommier, acknowledged by both BH and JJ as a bonafide Chumash leader, states that the Chumash people owe him nothing: “We owe these scholars like Haley, who claim the exclusive federal role of ‘delineators of identity’, nothing.”
Whether an observer can maintain "scientific objectivity" while examining cosmology and culture is questionable. Chumash descendant Mike Khus has written of this in his article on "anthropological nihilism":
“This debate reflects the broader issue of whether anthropology as practiced today, is capable of scientific objectivity on the level of other disciplines such as theoretical physics (it clearly is not) or whether it is merely an ‘interpretive art’, and is therefore not reliable or authoritative for purposes of public policy. [...] Neither have they [anthropologists] flinched from making it their business to meddle in the internal affairs of the Chumash community, deliberately targeting those Chumash families & individuals who challenge these same anthropolgists when sacred religious sites are threatened by the latter's irresponsible actions.” Update,
(Read the entire article on John Anderson's webpage, as well as Dr. Anderson's answer to Haley)
Still another book on Ishi has been recently published, Ishi in Three Centuries (2003), a collection of 22 essays and testimonies edited by Karl Kroeber and Clifton Kroeber, sons of Alfred and Theodora Kroeber. In his review of this latest book on Ishi, Peter Nabokov has both praise and criticism to mete out. Nabokov remarks that previously unpublished material testifies that Ishi “was remarkbly intelligent, surprisingly sweet-tempered, and innately dignified, facing his fate with heartbreaking equanimity.” (News from Native California, Spring, 2004)
In this book we learn that at Ishi’s death, Alfred Kroeber’s first reaction was the right one: to totally forbid a scientific dissection of Ishi’s body. From Europe he wrote: ”We propose to stand by our friends. If there is any talk of the interests of science, then say for me that science can go to hell.” Had Kroeber stood firm in his resolve, posterity would not have subjected him to harsh condemnation for lack of character. Alas, he did not stand firm, and his words were mere talk, not backed up by action, or in this case, non-action. Ishi’s brain was sent to the Smithsonian Institution through the efforts of Kroeber, who chose not to stand by his friend.
Nabokov notes that the editors of Ishi in Three Centuries took every opportunity to put “family-or-profession-justifying spins” on their commentaries. “One gets the sticky impression that the Kroebers still regard Ishi’s legacy as something of a family franchise. Sometimes it seem’s the man’s dissection still goes on.” Nabokov continues: “Plowing through this book’s tortured arguments and reinterpretations, I could not help feeling that perhaps what Ishi most deserves now is silence.”
Amen. But I doubt that we are mature enough for this silence, as Ishi was mature in the sacred silence about his name. After centuries of of trans-continental genocides, we need centuries to verbally deal with our collective shame and disgrace before we can rest in silence. My personal belief is that the epic crimes committed against Native Americans for long gruesome centuries cannot be expiated. Despite status as the only global super-power, high technology that produces atom bombs, sends men to the moon, and makes possible the overthrow of a foreign government at whim, the United States does not possess the power for expiating these genocidal crimes. Ishi’s enigmatic death mask smiles down at us as if saying: the gift of Turtle Island was bestowed on the Euro-Americans as pearls before swine.
Update, June 13, 2004
A particularly volatile situation developed after a local newspaper charged improper student handling of Chumash skeletons, dug up through publicly funded archaeological projects. Bones from innumerable burials had been scattered together in a large laboratory basin for examination by undergraduates, who routinely handled them without faculty supervision. Not unexpectedly, Native American students reported numerous incidents of disrespect by non-natives.
[…] Lack of cooperation from the department led to continued bad publicity. It seemed like everyone else I knew in the university was appalled by the department's obstinacy, since similar confrontations were occurring nationwide as native religious leaders from Florida to Alaska sought legal rulings restricting academic access to native graveyards and other spiritual sites.
Many Chumash graves have been desecrated, often without the people responsible understanding that they were doing something forbidden. John Anderson writes of an atmosphere within the anthropological community from its very birth in which the native peoples of the continent were regarded as inferior, uncivilized and barbaric. Anderson cites numerous examples showing how Alfred Kroeber himself was guilty of this error, which has increased the suffering among California’s Indigenous Nations. One could almost say that this arrogance and pride at the core of academia is also behind the calamities we as a nation have brought down on the world and ourselves, and from which we will most likely not recover.
One arrives at the realization that no Euro-American, despite a Ph.D in anthropology and an entire career behind him or her, can have any other view of these cultures than one colored by European civilization. In his introduction to the Luiseño singer Villiana Calac Hyde's songs, Eric Elliott states: "In order to fully understand the culture of a given community or individual, one has to be a member of that culture." (Surviving Through the Days, edited by Herbert W. Luthin, University of California Press, 2002)
Luiseño women at Mission San Luis Rey
(San Diego Historical Society)
Note: At the peak of its prosperity,
Mission San Luis Rey was one of the largest
and most populous missions in both of the Americas.
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The Eurocentric racism of Kroeber, Harrington and the university system is a sad fact. The good news however is that this racism embedded in white studies of Native California (and the rest of the continent) at the university level can be cured. But the cure is impossible if this arrogance and pride are not regretted and erradicated. And then, with humility and wisdom, the true nature of the cultures of our state can be fully appreciated and respected.
Update, June 21, 2004
However much one can object to what Anderson calls “Powers’ degrading language,” his book is invaluable for Native Californian studies. Without it, something profound would be missing in California ethnology. I doubt that Anderson would condemn Malki Press for having republished Padre Boscana’s Chinigchinich in 1978 from the 1846 version, although Boscana’s extreme racism can be compared to that of Himmler, Goebbels and Hitler. Without this valuable text, republished by a native-owned publishing house, we would never have learned about this man-god from Puvungna (Rancho Los Alamitos, near Long Beach). This republication was obviously not a “low point” in California ethnology, although its author is much more reprehensible than Powers.
[Note: Responding to my comment, John Anderson clarifies that he did not mean to imply that the old racist texts should not be published at all. He as well considers them extremely valuable, both for the information they contain, as well as for a demonstration of the racist attitudes prevalent at the time and which led to what we have today; but he confirms his opinion that any republication should be carefully prefaced. It can be argued, however, that Robert Heizer provided just such a cautioning preface. He wrote: "But Powers, as a man of a century ago, could scarcely fail to reflect in his writings (which we must not forget were directed toward a body of contemporary readers) the low opinion which Americans generally held about all Indians." As a reader of Tribes of California I am satisfied with Heizer's preface, which duly cautions against Power's racism.]
I agree with John Anderson that Powers is contemptible in his belief that the Native Californians belonged to “a humble and lowly race, one of the lowest on earth,” living in a state of “unprogressive savagery.” But refuting Powers’ report of cannibalism is nothing Anderson can do with scientific certainty. The chapter in Montaigne’s Essays called “Les Cannibales” refers to a practice that was prevalent throughout the Americas. J.P. Harrington also wrote of ritual cannibalism among certain southern Californian tribes, a reinactment of Coyote stealing the dead god's heart from the funeral pyre and eating it.
The degradation that Powers witnessed was also reported by chroniclers one century before him. When Powers wrote of the “degraded and unhappy offspring” of the Pomo, Anderson accuses him of being “insensitive.” But these children were like the victims of colonialism all over the world, impoverished and unhappy. Perhaps Powers’ comment was a sign of compassion? Robert Heizer wrote in his preface: "It is obvious, I think, that Powers genuinely liked the California Indians he was visiting and studying in the summers of 1871 and 1872, and was aware of their shattering experience of contact with the Americans from Gold Rush times, some twenty years before." Powers did indeed behold a degraded people. What he and some earlier chroniclers failed to understand was that this degradation was not intrinsic to native cultures, but to European cultures, most of all European Christianity. It is as if an outside observer were to judge Jewish culture by the degraded and emaciated Jews liberated from Auschwitz, instead of judging German culture as the author of this degradation.
The merest contact with Europeans degraded these peoples, just as California as a natural paradise was degraded by these same Europeans. Therefore, the academic pride of being “civilized” carries with it, firstly, the deadly consequences of this deadly sin. Secondly, it ignores that “civilization,” as both Catlin and Baudelaire observed, is about degradation of the individual, the society, the natural environment and the spiritual state of mankind.
Update, June 26, 2004
Update, June 26, 2004
Update, July 20, 2004
Update, July 20, 2004
Robert Heizer’s cautioning preface to Tribes of California mentioned above has no counterpart in the southern Californian classic Chinigchinich, republished by Malki Press in 1978 with a preface by William Bright. Bright does not comment on Boscana’s very harsh racism, nor does J.P. Harrington in his lengthy and extremely detailed notes to this work. The anthropologists instead commented on the unique importance of this text: “This is after all much the most important ethnographic document on the California Indians left by the Franciscans who converted them.” (A.L. Kroeber) “[It] is easily and by far the most ethnological of any of the essays or accounts written in the Spanish language during the Spanish period of the history of the Californias.” (J.P. Harrington) Bright notes that Boscana’s “rather bizarre spelling Chinigchinich […] has, by now, too much tradition behind it to be discarded.” Harrington suggested that it be pronounced “chee-ngich´-ngich.”
This amazing story has fascinated me since I first came into contact with it 25 years ago. The translator, however, did not seem to appreciate it. I think of Richard Wilhelm's translation of the ancient Chinese classic on meditation called The Secret of the Golden Flower, which was also scorned by the translator, who lacked the necessary perception to appreciate the wisdom of this text. Such is the case in Boscana’s introduction to his Spanish translation of this Tongva/Acjachemen epic. The Spaniard did not have the necessary perception to appreciate the wisdom inherent in this true story of a holy man who surpasses all others we know of in the available literature. (Bright and Kroeber, however, doubted that Chinigchinich was an historic human being, not making the connection between the man and the god which is prevalent in mythologies throughout the world.) Boscana’s racism did not evoke any comments from William Bright nor J.P. Harrington, even when he referred to the Acjachemen people as “monkies,” “more like brutes than rational beings.” Nor did they comment on the very important data neglected by Boscana: who were the bards who told him this story? What was the nature of their tradition? How does it relate to the god in question?
Bright comments that Harrington’s aim was “to clarify and to flesh out the Boscana text with every bit of ethnographic and linguistic information that he could obtain.” Despite his near-lunatic scrutiny of this text, the glaring fact of Boscana’s contempt and ill will was overlooked (or ignored) by Harrington. And yet, the republication of Boscana’s text comes as a blessing. The priest was unwittingly the tool of the very people he scorned, an ignorant messenger whose purpose was to present us with southern California’s principle myth. Little does his contempt matter in this respect. It is surprising, however, that neither Harrington nor Bright chose to condemn Boscana’s racism.
Bards from the newly founded village of Acjachemen had carried the epic of Chinigchinich with them from the north (the area called San Gabriel Valley today), where it had its origins among the Tongva. When the Spanish took over their territory by force, used them as slaves to build a mission, and put Boscana in charge of it, the mighty story was injected into western culture like the venom of a rattlesnake, for Chinigchinich the Chastizer is the god of venemous animals. In this story of a god who lived a while in human form, the significance of his birthplace Puvungna – “the gathering place” – to southern California is like that of Bethlehem to Palestine.
Boscana wrote that in December, 1823, an in September, 1825, two comets appeared and were visible for a month. The Acjachemen people around mission San Juan Capistrano told the priest that they were departed chiefs, and that “they denoted some important change in their destiny.” Some thought it boded well, that they would return to their ancient way of life. The elders, however interpreted the comets as boding ill, “that another people [Americans] would come who would treat them as slaves and abuse them; that they would suffer much hunger and misery; and that the chief thus appeared to call them away from the impending calamity.” What seer or prophet could stand firm against Manifest Destiny?
Alfred Louis Kroeber wrote that the Tongva were considered “the enlightened ones” by the surrounding tribes, and he himself referred to them in his Handbook of the Indians of California as “the wealthiest and most thoughtful of all the Shoshoneans.” Chinigchinich was the principle deity of the Tongva, Acjachemen and certain other peoples who shared cosmogonies in southern California. Chinigchinich supplanted the earlier deity Wewyoot. This earlier deity, in many of the myths, was bewitched by his own people, killed and his body burned on a funeral pyre. Coyote stole his heart before it was consumed by the fire and ate it, becoming both devil and god for many tribes.
When Chinigchinich was a boy in Puvungna, he was called Saor, “before-he-learned-to-dance,” a term used also to refer to the uninitiated. When he became Tobet he established the rites of dance, epic poetry, painting, and the laws of Tongva society. Tobet also was used to refer to the headdress worn by the ritual dancers. John Peabody Harrington has also written that Tobet was the name of the first man ever to sing and perform singing ceremonies (Jack Rabbit in the myths). As Quaoar he dwells among the stars after having danced his way into heaven. So dreaded and sacred was his third name that it was rarely spoken, and then only in whispers.
After many years of studying the available material on the Tongva culture, I have found no answer to the question of Chinigchinich's age. Scholars vary in their beliefs, some seeing this man-god as a conscious imitation of the christian man-god (as did Kroeber), and others seeing him as extremely ancient, in existence long before the coming of the Spaniards in 1542. Still others see Chinigchinich as a European shipwrecked in the 16th century with a knowledge of judaism, christianity or buddhism. (However vain this alternative seems, it brings to mind the stranded 16th-century Englishman, Anthony Knivet, who became a war chief to the Tupinamba tribe in Brazil.) Similarities between the spiritual teachings of Chinigchinich and other teachings in the world need not suggest contact between the different cultures. Spirit, like blood, is common to all humanity, and similarities in spiritual teachings throughout the world often arise from this one common source.
William McCawley lists these various guesses as to the age of Chinigchinich in his book The First Angelinos, and writes that the Tongva cosmogony “may represent a religious system of considerable antiquity.” Those scholars who wish to see European influence in the story of Chinigchinich perhaps believe that spiritual profundity is impossible among “savages” and must be a European import. On the contrary, such spiritual profundity is not visible in the occident, with the exception of ancient Greece, where the artistic principle was also the prime mover of society. The man-god Dionysos filled a similar need in Greece as Chinigchinich in California, and indeed, is still filling this need even today, in the forms of Drama, Dance, Painting and Poetry.
Chinigchinich provided his people with sacred rites and a divine blueprint for musicians, dancers, ground painters, bards, healers, warriors, sorcerers, chieftains and prophets. When he appeared to the tribal elders the first time, it was as a spectre who quickly disappeared again. He reappeared, and disappeared again. The third time he remained to instruct them. (excerpt from The Whetting Stone.)
My 25 years of studies of Native California have been undertaken as an artist and not a scientist. (This is relevant to the discussion of Chinigchinich above, who was the prototype of aboriginal artists.) Even though this has meant that anthropologists refuse to take me seriously, there are parallels of artists undertaking studies in an area considered reserved for scientists. The in-depth studies of occidental culture carried out by Robert Graves and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe come to mind, as well as George Catlin's phenomenal opus. The two distinct methodologies – that of science and that of Art – involve completely different motivations for study.
In Art, the more you learn, the less you know about the mystery. In science, accumulated knowledge leads the investigator to believe that he or she knows more and more about the mystery under investigation – for example, the universe. Despite all the knowledge accumulated about the galaxies, quasars, stars and our solar system by scientists, I still look up at the starry night sky in total ignorance. I am comfortable with my ignorance of this mystery. Scientists, however are very uncomfortable not knowing. They gather knowledge as a means of alleviating this discomfort, and wish us to believe that their “Big-Bang” theory need not be doubted. They know, period. (Alan Watts has called scientific theories about the universe myths among other myths.)
However, the most obvious and all-pervading essence of the universe – Spirit – has been left totally out of the scientists' calculations. How can I but doubt their competence in this matter? In the human sphere, this translates into the sacred. The taoist sage Chuang Tzu believed that knowledge is a by-product to spiritual attainment. What good is knowledge without attainment? Chuang Tzu felt closer to the universe in a state of not-knowing. A mystery is not knowable. The thousands of years of Chumash culture are not knowable. The sacred is not really given proper treatment by science. It is not a scientific subject. It requires being comfortable with one’s ignorance.
The transgressions of scientists toward Native American cultures for as long as they have been studied derive from this faulty knowledge of the sacred which is intrinsic to science. We know that science does not deal with Spirit, for it is unscientific to do so. Alas, Spirit is strangely unaccounted for in all branches of science. It is neither seen in the elaborate formulas nor in the far-from-eloquent language used tediously in science. Those scientists who have attempted to make utterances on the nature of Spirit often make fools of themselves. Scientific methods are of no use to them here. Tibetan buddhists see science as having made major contributions to minor needs. Major needs – needs of Spirit – receive no attention from science. And after all, the universe is above all other things a spiritual phenomenon.
Sakta rinner vanvett i människornas hjärtan.
Gyllene dårskap famnar människornas tröskel med unga rankors lidelse.
(Slowly insanity courses in human hearts.
Guilded lunacy embraces humanity’s threshold with the ardor of young vines.)
— Edith Södergran
”The Stars are Swarming”
translated from Swedish by Theo Radic
(from Selected Poetry of Edith Södergran)
Update, August 11, 2004
ART AND SCIENCE
But such good will has difficulty prevailing over the greater ill will that inflicts science, and to a lesser degree, Art. Levi wrote that “between ‘the two cultures’ there is no incompatability; contrary, there is, at times, when there is good will, mutual attraction.”* This can be seen when the mind of Einstein confronted the mind of Bach. However, a certain academic haughtiness in Einstein made him equate what he saw as “beauty” in physics with that of Art – a fatal error. Whatever it may be, the “beauty” of physics can never approach the profundities of the Beauty of Bach’s music and the rest of the Art of human kind.
The individuals of Native Californian cultures versed in the uses of plants, weather predictions and star-gazing were compared to western scientists by the scientist Florence Shipek (California Indian Shamanism). The native men and women of knowledge possessed and possess knowledge immersed in the harmony of the Way, a trait lacking in the compartmentalized sciences of the west. Western scientists are strangers to the discipline of Harmony. Harmony is not something that falls into your lap automatically simply because you appreciate Art. Harmony is a discipline. An initiation. It is perhaps the most difficult of all goals to attain. The harmony that results in the initiation of the artists is then passed on to the rest of the community, whether they practice the musical, poetical, herbal, star-gazing, or rock/canvas painting arts.
The difficulty in truly achieving Harmony (which could be scientifically called balance between the right and left sides of the brain) can be seen in the lives of the occidental masters. Who more than Beethoven knew the secret technique of Harmony? And yet he made a mess of his life, tormented his brother's widow, snatched her only child away from her because of his power as patriarch, and, trying to raise the poor boy as his own, drove him to a distant hill with grazing sheep, where Beethoven's nephew put a bullet in his skull (he survived). He could not live up to the high standards that his tyrannical uncle imposed on him. So difficult is the task of bringing Harmony into the workings of daily life – not even Beethoven could do it!
The similarities between the modern sciences and what Shipek sees as sciences among the Native Californians are clearly evident. The differences as well are clearly evident. Concern for the sacred is where aboriginal sciences differ drastically from western sciences, which, when practiced correctly, are in fact arts. The ceremonies involving the solstices, equinoxes and blossoming stages of food sources were central for Native Californian societies. In them is concentrated genuine concern for the sacred by the people of the community. Lacking this widespread concern for the sacred, and uninitiated in the discipline of Harmony, scientists present us with a fragmented world-view.
There is a natural Chumash shrine frequented by tourists and university people near Tranquillon Peak on Vandenburg Air Force Base. (Once tranquil, Tranquillon Peak has been “developed” by the military, with bulldozers and earth-moving machines having permanently deformed its ancient silhouette at sunset.) The sacred shrine today is called Window Rock Cave. At the winter solstice (a time of paramount importance to the Chumash), the light of the afternoon sun enters the natural “window” of the cave, to illuminate petroglyphs engraved on the cave wall, a few days before and a few days after the solstice. The winter rays of sunlight snake along the walls obliquely, brushed dust-like over the mineral grains of the petroglyph of the sun. Knowledge of such natural coincidences is the profound talent of the Chumash, a talent still thriving today. But those modern Chumash who are initiated into the ancient rites have difficulty maintaining the sacred status of Window Rock Cave (just as Apollo's adepts no longer can maintain the sacredness at Delphi today). In both cases, the tourists are in the way.
A few years ago a female museum docent who visited Window Rock Cave with her colleagues during the winter solstice was quoted in the newspaper: “To think that the Chumash could find something like that is amazing. It's not exactly a holy place, but it’s something similar to it.” (Santa Barbara News Press 22.XII.92) It takes people initiated into the arts of the Way to understand that this is indeed, and with no doubts whatsoever, a holy place. Why did the scientist not understand this? (excerpt from Crazy Devil Sweeping)
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Update, February 23, 2005
ROCK ART AND SCIENCE
Update, February 23, 2005
Chumash rock painting in Sespe
photo by Chumash descendant Richard Cordero
There is a very fine line between science
and a bold flirtation with the speculative.
– Brian Fagan, Before California
Fagan writes: "The sad conclusion is that we can never hope to understand all the roles that rock art played in ancient California life." As a visual artist I do not regard it as "sad" that the significance of rock art will never be truly known in all its aspects. The fading and eventual disappearance of the painted image are important aspects of the art. Paintings on rocks, canvas or paper are more likely to be regarded as ”precious” by non-artists. Before he died, Claude Monet destroyed many of his paintings as unworthy to be left to posterity. Art dealers, art historians and other non-artists would have thought it a pity that these paintings were destroyed, still seeing them as precious objects to be coveted. Cézanne left oil paintings in the back country of Aix-en-Provence to be battered by weather and obliterated like last years autumn leaves. The covetousness of non-artists towards works of art is irritating to artists, and is is very evident in the academic debate over California’s rock art.
Brian Fagan begins his chapter on rock art with a fictitious story of a Chumash ”shaman” at Condor Cave in the Santa Ynez mountains in AD 1200, as if he were beginning a novel: "He sat cross-legged in the dark cave... As he waited [for the sunrise of the winter solstice] he sang quietly, etc." I have hiked to Condor Cave and photographed the images painted on the cave wall. I can’t say if the painter sang quietly on the morning of the winter solstice in the year AD 1200, or even if the cave was visited by a painter that particular winter. The archaeologist quotes the expert on Chumash rock art, Campbell Grant, who was himself a gifted painter: "The creators took satisfaction in a job ingeniously conceived and well-executed." According to Grant, Art satisfied the desire of the creator "to make a pleasing image on a rock where nothing had existed before, an image that might carry part of the artist into the most distant future." (Campbell Grant, James W. Baird, and Kenneth Pringle, Rock Paintings of the Coso Range, Ridgecrest CA, Maturango Museum, 1969) I find this evaluation by Grant to be very well-put, and don’t see why the issue need be more complicated than "to make a pleasing image on a rock where nothing had existed before."
Disagreeing with the artist Grant’s view, the scientist Fagan cautions: "We must not fall into the trap of thinking about art through Western eyes." I have painted since I was one year old. My evolution as a painter paralleled that of art history in general, beginning with my prehistoric period as a one-year-old-clutcher-of-crayolas, groping through Egyptian and Greek periods; a Renaissance period; and then neo-classicism, romanticism and naturalism; impressionism and fauvism; cubism and abstract expressionism. I regard Grant’s view of the motivation for creating rock art — to make a pleasing image — the raison d’être of all painting since the Altamira and Lascaux caves were decorated 30,000 years ago. I regard these prehistoric painters in Spain and France as the precursors of Velasquez and Picasso, Chardin and Matisse.
The "ferocious debates" over rock art by non-artist scholars overlook the "inner necessity" common to all visual art. Fagan cites "sympathetic hunting magic" as another motivation for rock art. This can be carried further to include the broader concept "participation mystique" used by depth psychologist Erich Neumann in his classic works The Great Mother and Origins and History of Consciousness. Erich Neumann’s insights into Art and creativity are profound, much more so than those of his elder colleague Carl Jung. Neumann borrowed the term “participation mystique” from a German author of the 19th century to denote the manner in which the artist “participates” in the unity of nature to such a degree that he is no longer separate from it.
Neumann's research clearly shows how there are similar motivations for creating in a child drawing with his crayolas and a prehistoric cave painter tens of thousands of years ago. The universal origins of creativity in human beings unite different cultures and epochs. With the insider’s deep knowledge of the art of painting, Vassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) explained this clearly as the Principal of Inner Necessity, which applies to rock art as well. Considering the vast degree to which this vital principle is ignored today (for it is the credo not only of the artist, but his connoisseurs as well), it is best to cite it in full:
1. Each artist, as creator, must express that which is unique to him. (Element of personality.)
2. Each artist, as child of his era, must express that which is unique to that era. (Element of the inner value of style, composed of the language of the people, as long as they exist as a nation.)
3. Each artist, as the servant of Art, must express that which is, in general, unique to Art. (Element of pure and eternal Art that one finds among all human beings, among all peoples and all times, that appears in the opuses of all artists, of all nations and all eras, and obeys no law of space and time as the essential element of Art.*
Brian Fagan's chapter on "shamans" in Before California emanates a clear comprehension of the spiritual realities of these creative individuals. But one can go further - not to complicate, but to simplify. For example, when Fagan writes that "shamans... mediated between the living and spiritual realms," one can also understand these two "realms" as one and the same. Spirit is intertwined with Life. When it departs, death is the result. Thus, "the living and spiritual realms" are in fact one. When Fagan, like so many other writers, refers to the "power" of the "shaman", we can simplify this mysterious word by calling it creativity instead.
Creativity, like the medicine people's "power", is a very rare phenomenon in human societies, although it alone is their architect. Nothing in any other human discipline surpasses the Art of human kind for in-depth confrontation with Spirit. Bach, da Vinci and Shakespeare are some of the best examples of this in our civilization. Remove Art from religion — all the poetry, oratorios and other great music, the paintings, architecture, divine inspiration and psalms of poets like Isaiah and David — and religion is stripped of its "power", of its spiritual legitimacy. The same for creators among the Chumash or other Native American cultures. Their "power" is very simply the creativity of the artist. Their "spirit helpers" correspond to the Muses of western artists.
Despite the differences between our culture and ancient Californian cultures, it may be said that in studying them we are looking into our own past, as Åke Hultkrantz wrote: "One reason those of us who are not Native Americans study their religious beliefs and customs is to recover a religious heritage that we all, as descendants of hunters in ages past, share." (Native Religions of North America, Åke Hultkrantz, Harper, San Francisco, 1987.) Hultkrantz has specified that shaman "is a technical term for a certain type of medicine man in some humanistic disciplines." (personal communication) In the universal use of language, it becomes less appropriate. At the local level of society, in all parts of the world, for time immemorial, there have been creative individuals within the community different from the others, who put their creative powers at the disposal of their brethren, often receiving no thanks and even punishment for being their benefactors. In our civilization they are known as artists. To call this global phenomenon "shamanism" is to pigeon-hole a great mystery into a tiny container, like Aladdin's imprisoned genie in the lamp. If the paintings in the caves of Lascaux, Altamira and California are universally acknowledged as Art, then the strange beings who painted them were artists, a far better description than "shamans".
Hultkrantz specifies that "there are few persons among the North American Indians who can be designated as shamans in the Siberian sense, but many who demonstrate specific shamanic traits." ("The Specific Character of North American Shamanism," Åke Hultkrantz, European Review of Native American Studies, 13:2 1999) Now we not only have the scientific distinction between "shaman" and "medicine man," but also a third category of one possessing "shamanic traits". Indeed, such distinctions are scientific, and imply a precision that can be relevant in chemistry or physics, but which is irrelevant in the domain of the spiritual, a thoroughly unscientific domain.
A recent book on rock art by David S. Whitely is entitled The Art of the Shaman. ”The Art of the Tribal Artist” is basically what is meant by this title. Reviewing this book, Ken Hedges, curator of of California collections at San Diego Museum of Man, agrees with Whitely’s "shamanistic interpretation of rock art." He believes that "we have much to lose if shamanistic interpretation is removed from consideration in rock art research." From an artistic perspective, we have much to gain examining the world’s art without applying ”shamanistic”, ”psychoanalytical” or any other preconceived scientific notions of art. What anthropologists term "shamanism" is in fact a stage in the evolution of Art. In the Cahuilla language (still spoken in the valley of my birth) the term puvalam, usually translated as "shaman", is said to mean "initiate". The artist is a life-long initiate. The practice of all the arts requires formal initiation. In certain cultures the initiation involves secrecy. Fagan writes: "Eyewitness accounts of painting are rare." This could have to do with ritual secrecy surrounding the initiation into this art. One eyewitness stated to Harrington that the painters painted their spirits [anit] on rocks "to show themselves, to let people know what they had done." (The Rock Painting of the Chumash, Campbell Grant, UC Press, Berkeley, 1965) This could have been the motivation for Michelangelo and other western painters as well.
The academic abuses of the terms ”shaman” and ”shamanism” make them ill-suited for confronting California’s rock art, the Lascaux cave paintings, the Sistine Chapel or the "Women" of de Kooning. It is not being audacious to claim that the creators of these works can accurately be called artists. Why are scientists so adverse to admitting this? The term ”shaman” is from the Tungus people of Siberia, and could very well mean ”artist” in their language. (The Chumash artist of the Owl clan mentioned above who created the medicine circle on Shalawa meadow in Santa Barbara dislikes being called a ”shaman”, and told me he doesn't know what this word means. Do the scientists themselves know?) This update is not a critique of research methods, but of the misuse of the English language, as well as the researchers’ insufficient knowledge of the subject under investigation: Art.
It need not be as complicated as Brian Fagan and other scientists who study rock art make it. It can indeed be as simple as the artist Campbell Grant stated: to make a pleasing image on a rock where nothing had existed before. Despite the subtle spiritual realities embedded in the art of painting for tens of thousands of years, and its various ritualistic, hunting or hallucinogenic aspects, painting is very simply about making a pleasing image. It is a non-verbal art form, and an excess of verbosity leads to “ferocious debates” that in truth are storms in a teacup. Fagan insists that the realities of rock painters “were completely different than those of Western society.” And yet, as Kandinsky implies, all peoples in all eras, in all locations are similar in that they eat, make shelters, like comfort, love, have pets, give names, make clothes, raise children, marvel over sunsets, tell stories, sing, dance and paint. Despite the obvious differences between the voluptuous nudes of Boucher and Chumash rock art, the end result is an image pleasing to the creator as it is to the viewer .
Before California: An Archaeologist Looks at Our Earliest Inhabitants
Brian Fagan, Rowan & Littlefield, NY, 2003
[Note 13.IX.05: I am well aware that my above thoughts on Art and science can offend scientific-minded people. However, the impulse behind my words is a sincere desire that the profound spiritual benefits of the arts permeate not only science, but all other human disciplines, like sports, politics, commerce and law. Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, originally from Taiwan but now an American citizen, is a very enlightened teacher of tai chi, shaolin, qigong and meditation. In his recent book Qigong Meditation Dr. Yang (who has a degree in physics) writes of the need for “spiritual science” in the West. He notes that the spiritual world “has not yet been understood by today’s science. If you are able to step in and practice [meditation and the internal arts], you will become a pioneer of the study and practice of spiritual science.” I agree with Dr. Yang when he states that when it comes to understanding spiritual realities, “the East has developed far beyond the West.” While all societies have individuals with an “affinity for Buddhahood” (Fo Yuan) or an “affinity for Tao” (Tao Yuan), “in Europe and the Americas it was more common for people who had natural inborn spiritual capabilities to be accused as witches and burned to death.” This intolerance to creative individuals has plagued Western Art since its beginning, whether it be Dante’s banishment from Florence or Molière being denied a burial by the church.
The Greek word mousiké, the Art of the Muses, referred not only to music, but to all the countless “arts.” Art is the “way” with a lower case “w”, just as the artist is the “creator” with a lower case “c”. Art is the “way” as applies to human creation, Tao is the “Way” as applies to all Creation. The taoist classic Wen Tzu refers several times to “the arts of the Way.” This can be shortened to “the arts” and even further to Art. In this context, Art signifies the best way to do something. A common expression for the highest level of excellence in a given practice is: “He makes an art of it.” In the Wen Tzu it is written: “Of the energies of the universe, none is greater than harmony. Harmony means the regulation of yin and yang, the division of night and day.” The artist is the student of Harmony.]
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Update June 6, 2005
If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.
– Lilla Watson (Aboriginal Australian Wisdomkeeper)
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine,
then let us work together.
– Lilla Watson (Aboriginal Australian Wisdomkeeper)
Over 15 years ago I read Robert Hughes’ 688-page history of Australia, The Fatal Shore, and was horrified at the exceptional brutality and perversity behind the founding of this nation. Rarely have I read historical accounts that have stunned me so. It represents not only the darkest side of English culture, but the darkest side of European culture, which is easiest for those concerned to ignore and continue pretending that these atrocities, massacres and genocides never occurred. Thousands of aboriginal children like Lilla were forcibly taken from their families to be raised by stern whites and groomed for servitude, while being subjected to rapes, beatings and utter anguish and despair by the whites.
After tens of thousands of years of habitation, the Aborigines had developed such strong familial ties that they called other biologically unrelated aborigines “father”, “mother”, “uncle”, etc., as if the entire continent were one family unit. Being lighter-skinned, like Lilla, as offspring of a rape or forced concubinage, mixed-blood aboriginal children were seen as too white to be raised in the aboriginal culture, even though life among the whites meant the lowest most degrading position in society. Most modern Australians are totally incapable of imagining the great anguish and sorrow inflicted on these thousands of children by their government. It makes them too uncomfortable. Lilla was told that “we would have a better future if we were taken from our families and raised as whites in a good religious environment. The only thing they achieved was unhealed sores of loneliness and mistrust, bitterness and hate.”
What helped to justify the brutal destruction of these ancient bonds of family by the Australian government were theories and ideas of anthropologists and other scientists, even those of Sigmund Freud. Charles Darwin himself contributed to this crime, even though he was repulsed by the brutality he witnesed in Australia. But sewn into his theory of evolution is the idea that the foreseeable extermination of aboriginal peoples around the world was not really a crime, since it was an unavoidable result of the natural process of human evolution: survival of the fittest. (This western vainglory and narcissism still leaves room to wonder if a society well on its way to self-annihilation can accurately be called “the fittest”.) After Darwin’s theory it became natural to shrug one’s shoulders at genocide. To be disgusted by it was merely a sign of an uneducated person who had not read Darwin. Darwin's theory became a self-fulfilling prophesy, legitimising acts of dispossession, mass violence and genocide.
Today is the Swedish national holiday, and the above thoughts are paraphrased from Swedish historian Sven Lindqvist’s newly published book on Australia, Terra Nullius. The horrors of Australian history are not unique to the bad character of the Australians. Linqvist cites an example of a Swedish zoologist, Eric Mjöberg, whose ghoulish crimes against the Aborigines make one’s hair stand on end. Lindqvist based his book on impeccable research and a long arduous trip of 12,000 kilometers around the entire continent of Australia. At each stop he evoked the terrible crimes that were committed in that specific region. Focusing on the mountainous wooded region of northern Australia called Kimberley, southwest of Darwin, he wrote: “Here a remarkable chapter in the history of Swedish research was enacted – the Swedish expedition to Australia 1910-11 – led by zoologist Eric Mjöberg (1882-1938). In the plans for the expedition’s investigations was included ‘to find and bring home as many skeletons as possible of the interesting Australian negro race ultimately on the way to extinction.’”
Mjöberg wrote in his very self-incriminating diary that it was very unpleasant and troublesome to gather the many skeletons plundered from aboriginal cemeteries: “Nothing is so risky as to rob a people of their dead.” The Swedish scientist loitered outside aboriginal villages like a famished hyena, looking for the best opportunity to steal a cadaver. On New Year’s day 1911 he was able to “snatch a very splendid and well-preserved skeleton which, following the accepted practice, lay buried on a bed of eucalyptus boughs high up in a eucalyptus tree. But a few days later the negroes tracked me down, and like a brushfire it was spread throughout the whole district that I had desecrated their dead.” He complained that the odor was “anything else than pleasant,” but nonetheless he was very pleased with himself: “It was the first anthropological material, and a good addition to my collections.” Anthropological material? Collections? How many cadavers had he already stolen outside of Australia???
On his way back Mjöberg passed by the aboriginal cemetery called Skeleton Hill by the whites, where there were several human remains in a grotto: “I succeeded in getting two beautiful craniums. The jawbones were missing and only after much searching did I find them… Pleased and tired, I started for home.” The many aboriginal skeletons that Mjöberg had plundered he hid in sacks. Others in the expedition were worried that the “negroes” would find out what was hidden in the sacks. But he told aboriginal people that it was “kangaroo bones” in the sacks. He was especially proud how he deceived them: “I laughed to myself when the three niggers happily chatting with one another walked ahead of me carrying their dead comrades’ remains.”
In triumph Eric Mjöberg took a total of six aboriginal skeletons and several craniums back to Sweden, where they were housed at the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. They remained there for ninety years untouched, as anthropological research (thank heaven!) proceeded in other directions. I remember the revulsion I experienced reading an article in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter in 2003 that human remains of more than six Australian aborigines were finally returned to Australia for proper burial, after years and years of fruitless pleas to the Ethnographic Museum. I wondered then: what in all dark damnation were they doing there in the first place? Two years later, I read Terra Nullius and was given the answer by Sven Lindqvist. Nonetheless, skulls and skeletons of the Sami people in Lappland, Sweden are today still housed in ten or so Swedish museums!
Recent scandals down under reveal Australian citizens being deported or forcibly imprisoned in refugee camps because of their dark skin or Asian face. It should be emphasized that these misdeeds were not committed in the heday of 18th-century Botany Bay, with Australia’s brutal tyranny over Aborigines and penal colony inmates who endured total humiliation and often fatal floggings. These outrageous deeds took place in 2005. Little does it matter that a Chinese Australian was finally allowed to fetch his Australian passport 5 miles away from the internment camp where he was forcibly detained for days, to prove to the Australian authorities that he was indeed an Australian citizen. Another dark-skinned woman, also an Australian citizen, was deported to the Philippines in a wheelchair, and her young daughter sent to a foster home, all in the revered tradition of Botany Bay. The question arises for Australians with Asian features or darker skin: will they be required by the authorities to constantly carry their Australian passports in order not to be randomly sent to internment centers??? (source: Dagens Nyheter 10.VI.05)
Albert Bonniers Förlag 2005
Update September 23, 2006
Sven Lindqvist has carefully followed the academic strife currently raging in Australia as the horrible truth of the atrocities and genocides becomes common knowledge after two centuries of cover-ups. Like Americans, Australians love to love themselves and their nation, founded, they believe, by wise immigrants who were in fact “God’s chosen people” with a very high moral code. Sven Linqvist writes:
Many white Australians are upset over what they have learned [about their history]. They are used to seeing themselves as descendants of peaceful and law-abiding pioneers. They believed that they brought the blessings of civilization to the ancient inhabitants of their homeland. Historical research that robs them of this pretty self-portrait and replaces it with land theft, abduction of children, rape and mass-murder is of course not especially welcomed. (Dagens Nyheter, 23.IX.06)
This is also the dilemma of the United States in a nutshell. And like my homeland, Australia’s academic world is now producing pseudo-scholars who use extremely detailed argumentation to deny the existence of the trans-continental atrocities and genocides against the Aborigines. (We know of a similar phenomenon in the denial of the Holocaust against the Jews by other pseudo-scholars.) In Sven Lindqvist’s words, “A more classical case of ‘blaming the victim’ is hard to find.”
Cowardice thrives among us in varying degrees of nuance. At the bottom there is no attempt to justify one’s cowardice. At the top, proud academic “revisionists” go to great lengths to document their cowardice in scientific detail to prove that this horrific national crime never took place, as in Keith Windschuttle’s The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (Macleay Press, 2002). Windschuttle ransacked police archives and, comparing the number of whites murdered to the number of Aborigines murdered, comes to the conclusion that very many more whites were murdered by Aborigines than vice versa. Of course, as Sven Lindqvist observes, “White murder victims can normally be found in police records, while a murdered Aborigine was not worth the bother of a police investigation.”
Windschuttle claims, writes Lindqvist, that the historic conflict between the European invaders and the Aborigines was really a wave of aboriginal criminality, “committed by gangs of black killers in order to acquire European goods like tobacco, sugar and flour. […] The main reason for the violence was that the Aborigines loved to kill and were able to do so unpunished.” As in the case of anthropologist Brian Haley above in his appraisal of Chumash realities, Windschuttle sees history as uniquely data which is documented on paper. “That is, undocumented deaths by definition fall outside the domain of history. They belong to the world of rumor, gossip and legend which historians should not consider.”(S.L.) The conclusion of these revisionists in Australia is that no genocide took place; the supposed atrocities were legitimate police actions; and modern Australians have nothing to be ashamed of about their history. Sven Linqvist’s conclusion is otherwise: “What fragile self-esteem that it requires all this forgetfulness!”
Update July 16, 2005
WHO STOLE INDIAN STUDIES?
Unlike most anthropologists and other university-trained scholars, Riding In emphasized that “our careers in academia…are secondary to this goal [decolonization].” Referring to the initial courageous and quiet work of a few Native American scholars in the 1960s, he added: “Their message, that we must decolonize ourselves, our communities, academia, and mainstream society, resonates loudly today.” Panelist Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (Crow Creek Sioux and founding editor of Wicazo Sa Review) observed that Native Americans are not genuinely represented in the government bodies of the United States, and likens this situation to that of the Palestinians.
In both cases, the peoples in question “are not really accepted in the countries of their origins.” Concerning American Indian studies, she added: “We must say that the oral traditions of the tribes are what our methodology centers on, not on the written empirical research of anthropologists who have been on our reservations since 1802.” As is evident on this webpage, the anthropologists have not always had the best interest of the tribes in mind. For example, bits and pieces of Alfred Louis Kroeber’s true feelings about the Native Californians he studied are surfacing, revealing the depth and scope of his racism. Kroeber believed that the magnificent redwood canoes of the Yurok people, each carved meticulously from one giant tree using ancient ritual skills, paddled by them for many centuries on the Klamath river and Pacific Ocean, were too skillfully manufactured to be the creation of mere Indians. The famous anthropologist again erred by declaring that these canoes had to be the result of instruction from American miners in the region, who used them and native slave labor to transport freight and supplies on the rivers.
This error by Kroeber fits the theme of Sherry Smith's book, Re-imagining Indians: Native Americans through Anglo Eyes, 1880-1940 (Oxford University Press 2000). Kroeber imagined Native Californian cultures, as do I and most other non-Native Californians. For imagination to be a useful tool, it must lead us to hard realities, not, as in the above error by Kroeber, to the canonization of misconceptions which spring from racism and a feeling of superiority. Such less-than-honest appraisals of Native American cultures by anthropologists have resulted in their "informants" regretting their collaboration, as Smith writes: "The use to which some of these writers put Indians' knowledge, sacred or otherwise, no doubt caused some informants to regret their participation and others to determine never to do so again."
Considering that I have a deep attachment to the continent on which I was born, it is next to impossible for me to remain “objective” when discussing these issues, even though it may seem impudent of me – a Euro-American – to add my two cents worth. How can any American who has lived 34 years in Europe be informed about the current issues prevailing among the First Nations? The distance between my homeland and myself, coupled with decades of terrible homesickness, has indeed fueled an intense and prolonged study of the realities of Native America. Most people I know who are permanent residents of California are, on the other hand, totally in the dark concerning the indigenous cultures of their state and their nation. I too seek decolonization from the junk culture in which I grew up. (What in fact do Disneyland and Mickey Mouse have to do with California?)
For years I have been a reader of Wicazo Sa Review, the American Indian Quarterly and other journals dealing with Native America. The issue of “colonization/decolonization” under discussion at the above-mentioned conference are of personal concern to me. The United States has not only colonized Native American communities and cultures, brutally forcing them into conversion to its ways if they would survive, but has colonized the entire global community. For some, McDonalds restaurants in Bejing, Moscow, Budapest and Paris represent a victory. For us others, such commercial colonization on a global scale represents total self-defeat of the homo sapiens. It is an epic tragedy, one in which the dismal junk culture I beheld “cruising” on E Street in San Bernardino 40 years ago has become a dismal reality for many cities around the world. Now Sveavägen, a main avenue in Stockholm, has its “cruising” motorcycle gangs and hot-rodders who park at the McDonalds restaurant, just like E Street San Bernardino 40 years ago. The first McDonalds restaurant was ironically on this very same E Street in San Bernardino, where my high school still stands a few blocks north. Decolonizing E Street would reveal the splendid flora and fauna of the desert valley where I was born, and which is systematically being devastated, even today.
[Note: The term “colonialism” almost always refers to European cultures. However, it is also intrinsic to the Indigenous cultures of the Americas. The Incas, Mayas and Aztecs were also colonial powers. Closer to home, the legendary Great League of the Iroquois – Hodenosaunee – is revealed in history as an indigenous colonial power. James Mooney has written that until 1670 the Monacan tribes had been “little disturbed by whites,” but were obliged to uproot themselves often in desperation due to “the wars waged against them by the Iroquois.” (1) One sees that the Great League of the Iroquois was a veritable indigenous colonial power.
In 1722, Iroquois leaders told Virginian colonists that they hated the Nahyssan tribes, “against whom we have had so inveterate an enmity that we thought it could only be extinguished by their total extirpation.” (1) This Iroquois declaration of a desire for “total extirpation” (genocide) of brother Native American tribes reveals that, indeed, the impulse to genocide is also intrinsic to Native America. Violent conquest of ancestral territories, atrocities against civilians, aberrant behavior (such as self-mutilation and cannibalism), and, very simply, bad character, thrived in the Americas, we can assume, long before Columbus arrived.
By 1729, the genocide desired by the powerful Iroquois had not yet been achieved. In that year, when renewing the covenant of 1685 with colonies of Virgina and Maryland, the Iroquois deputies gave a wampum belt to governor Spotswood “in token of their friendship, and blandly requested permission to exterminate the Totelo [one of the Nahyssan tribes].” (1) James Mooney concluded: “The great overmastering fact in the history of the Siouan tribes of the east is that of their destruction by the Iroquois.” At the time of the Iroquois’ genocidal utterances, the Tutelo, together with the Algonquian tribes Delaware, Munsee-Mahican, Nanticoke, Conoy and Shawnee, were collectively brought under the governance of the chieftain Shikellamy, who served as viceroy for the Iroquois-conquered lands and peoples in the Susquehanna region. “Viceroy” as in colonial official, not for a European power, but for a Native American power.]
1. "The Siouan Tribes of the East," James Mooney, U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 22, Smithsonian Institution, 1894: Washington D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1984.
As cited in The American Indian Quarterly, Winter/Spring 2005, “An Odyssey among the Iroquois: A History of Tutelo Relations in New York,” Jay Hansford C. Vest.
Update October 11, 2005
VINE DELORIA, JR. ON ANTHROPOLOGY
Many Indians have come to parrot the ideas of anthropologists because it appears that the anthropologists know everything about Indian communities. Thus many ideas that pass for Indian thinking are in reality theories originally advanced by anthropologists and echoed by Indian people in an attempt to communicate the real situation.
Deloria mentions how Roger Jourdain, chairman of the Red Lake Chippewa of Minnesota, “casually had the anthropologists escorted from his reservation,” perhaps to avoid such academic contamination. The “modern war of conquest” which Deloria sees being waged against Native Americans today is being carried out in part by anthropologists like B.H. mentioned above, who grandly sees himself as a “delineator of identity” for Native people. Many government policies since Harry Truman’s presidency have had negative effects on Native communities, and “behind each policy and program with which Indians are plagued, if traced completely back to its origin, stands the anthropologist.”
Even with racism no longer being politically correct, anthropology consistently makes the anthropologists more visible and more important than the peoples whom they study. With recognizable Native American humor, Deloria quotes the anthropologist Elman R. Service, who “noted that ’beginning with the most pitiful and primitive Indians found by explorers, the Digger Indians of Nevada and Utah, Mr. Farb shows that even they are much above the highest non-human primate.’ Thank you, Mr. Farb, we were pretty worried about that.”
While Native American communities have serious problems with poverty, lack of adequate housing and unemployment, resources for the anthropologists “studying” them seem endless, as Deloria observes:
Several years ago an anthropologist stated that over a period of some twenty years he had spent, from all sources, close to ten million dollars studying a tribe of less than a thousand people! Imagine what that amount of money would have meant to that group of people had it been invested in buildings and businesses. There would have been no problems to study!
One can imagine the enormous funds available to Napoleon Chagnon and Jacques Lizot for their “field work” among the Yanomami in Venezuela, which resulted in a genocidal calamity that still devastates this people today, and how this money could have been used to help instead of to destroy. Even anthropologists must pay their rent, and if teaching jobs are unavailable, other sources of income must be found, as John Anderson writes: “The traditional role of university-trained researchers has changed dramatically in recent decades, as a large number of doctoral graduates from anthropology and archaeology departments have been unable to find teaching jobs in universities and colleges. A growing number of these scholars have turned to industry and government for employment. Many of these ‘practical’ anthropologists have become spokesmen for corporate and government interests, increasingly conflicting with colleagues who have been traditional advocates of preservaion of Native California sites.” (“Jonjonata and Chumash Indian Traditionalism”)
In Custer Died for your Sins Vine Deloria protests “the continued treatment of Indian people as objects for observation” by anthropologists, and how “academia, and its by-products, continues to become more irrelevant to the needs of people.” He presents a policy to clarify the respective roles of anthropologists and tribes:
Each anthro desiring to study a tribe should be made to apply to the tribal council for permission to do this study. He would be given such permission only if he raised as a contribution to the tribal budget an amount of money equal to the amount he proposed to spend in his study. Anthropologists would thus become productive members of Indian society instead of ideological vultures.”
Scientific observations of human cultures produce books filled with “knowledge for the sake of knowledge,” that is, knowledge devoid of wisdom. Then follow summaries of the books in scholarly journals in the guise of articles, which in turn provide proper filling for meticulous footnotes, bibliographies and references to future books and articles. The whole gives the appearance of coming closer to the “object” being studied, when in truth the scholars are putting more and more distance between themselves and the native cultures under investigation, as Deloria concludes: “In believing they [anthropologists] could find the key to man’s behavior, they have, like the churches, become forerunners of destruction.”
Update November 18, 2005: On November 14, 2005 Vine Deloria, Jr. died at the age of 72. He lived in Golden, just west of Denver. His book Custer Died for Your Sins preceded 20 additional books about the Native American experience and the erroneous ideas whites cultivate about Native Americans. An example of his subdued humor is his view of the defeat of Custer’s army at the Little Bighorn as "a sensitivity-training session." Although harsh in his view of anthropologists, priests and congressmen, he could also be critical of his own people: “I have seen some Indian academics that will sell anyone down the drain to maintain their status.”
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Update, March 9, 2006
Update, March 9, 2006
Stranger! move carefully through our carrion:
what seems carrion to you is freedom to our cells.
- Joseph Brodsky, "Letter to an Archaeologist"
In God is Red Lakota philosopher Vine Deloria, Jr. uses the term “grave robbing” as synonymous with archaeological digs at Native American cemeteries in which human remains are removed for scientific purposes. Archaeologists, however, use the same term to denote anyone and everyone who violates native graves except themselves. Digging up the skeletons of ancestors of Native Americans, some of whom are still living today, is not seen by the scientists as “grave robbing”. Through a unique rhetorical twist to our mother tongue they are able to associate this deed with noble motives.
Archaeologists condemn “pothunters” and “looters” for disturbing scientifically important sites. Not yet does one hear archaeologists admitting that there may be a higher value to a given site than merely its “scientific” value. The sacred nature of these sites is not yet fully understood by scientists, even those who give lip-service to the sacred. Archaeologist Robert J. Mallouf calls looters of these sites a “machine of destruction”. ( American Indian Quarterly Spring 1996) Considering Schliemann’s devastation of the mound at Hisarlik in Turkey (Troy) and the ensuing history of archaeology, with human remains and priceless cultural treasures stolen and shipped off to museums around the western world, “machine of destruction” also fits this discipline rather well. Vine Deloria writes with amazement how it is next to impossible to convince archaeologists and students of archaeology that they are doing anything wrong:
In mid-June 1971, forty-five students from the Minneapolis area, sponsored by the Twin Cities Institute for Talented Youth, went to Welch, Minnesota, to begin a six-week project in excavating the site of an Indian village. The motivation for the students’ fieldwork was puzzling. Apparently they may have been led to believe that digging up Indian remains was a form of showing respect. The students dug for about five weeks, carefully collecting materials and classifying them as “artifacts”. The Indians of Minnesota were outraged by the excavations. They believed that the dead should be left alone. AIM [American Indian Movement], led by Clyde Bellecourte, invaded the site one evening. They took shovels away from the students, filled the trenches, burned the excavation notes, and offered to compensate the students for property losses. They did not, however, want any further digging. They did not believe their ancestors had buried their dead for the express purpose of providing summer adventures. (God is Red)
The student leader of the excavations could only complain of “five weeks of work down the drain.” Strangely, the immorality of desecrating the dead did not disturb her. Another student explained that they “were trying to preserve Indian culture, not destroy it.” Deloria could only lament: “None of the whites could understand that they were not helping living Indians preserve their culture by digging up the remains of a village that had existed in the 1500s.” The tragic misunderstanding between the two cultures is delineated in all its aspects by Vine Deloria in God is Red, with such clairvoyant insight that it can only be called wisdom, leaving me even more filled with shame over the witless irreverence of the society in which I grew up. How is it possible that these American students of archaeology could not understand something so obvious: you do not dig up people placed with loving care in their final resting place!
In his Before California archaeologist Brian Fagan refers to “smoking guns from [Chumash] cemeteries.” This has double meaning, one of which he is perhaps unaware. Fagan’s meaning of “smoking guns” refers to telltale traces in Chumash skeletons disinterred from Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands that reveal various diseases like osteoporosis, cribra orbitalia and others. “Smoking gun” as a metaphor refers to telltale traces of a crime. Digging up a cemetery in our own community is a crime. When I lived in Santa Barbara a man, trained as only an archaeologist can be, was arrested when 25 bodies were found at his home. He was discovered in the act of gluing a skull together when arrested. A complete Chumash skull at the time sold for $500 on the black market. I attended a public meeting at which Chumash representatives demanded the harshest sentence available. The Shalawa Meadow Medicine Circle near Santa Barbara protects an ancient Chumash cemetery from developers and archaeologists. Anyone removing skeletal remains from this sacred place is guilty of a crime according to American law.
But when bioarchaeologist Patricia Lambert studied several hundred skeletons dug up from eight Chumash cemeteries on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands, from 5,000 BC up to European contact, it is referred to as science. Very much data was gathered from these skeletons that led to considerable knowledge about various aspects of the ancient Chumash culture. Chumash spiritual leader Paul Pommier seriously questions knowledge gained about his culture in this manner: “Too often, they have learned about the history of our culture by scavenging from our ancestors’ graves. … I, as an elder, can tell them what an anthropological and archaeological hypocrite is, and how they enriched themselves on our burial digs and all the Chumash artifacts that have been taken to museums. They have educated themselves by desecrating our burial lands.”
The other alternative, abstaining from gathering data when it involves a desecration of the sacred, is unacceptable to the scientists. Not knowing when they are able to know irritates them. Gaining knowledge at whatever price soothes their irritation, which in truth is never appeased. Missing pieces to the puzzle they are willing to acquire by disgracing themselves and their society, even while congratulating themselves like the students in Minnesota that they were merely “trying to preserve Indian culture.” Only when they honestly confront their disgrace is there a possibility of a cure for their appalling spiritual illness, shared by the elite of the elite of our university system.
The knowledge gained by the desecration of these cemeteries fills books and magazines with interesting data. But had those hundreds of Chumash skeletons remained in their cemeteries on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands, had the archaeologists, knowing of their existence, never studied them, the knowledge gained would be reverence for the dead. There is something indecent, obscene, about human remains being dug up from cemeteries and examined with the ultra-precision of modern science in high-tech laboratories, with DNA samples taken and compared with that of living descendants, who are at times tricked in to relinquishing their own DNA.
Vine Deloria has catalogued several such nightmarish incidents in God is Red, with the patience of a teacher trying to teach a blockhead student about something of which he knows nothing: the Sacred. (He convincingly reveals that knowledge of the Sacred is definitely not to be found in christianity.) Near Glenwood, Iowa in June 1977, a bulldozer working on a new road project uncovered an unmarked cemetery about a century old. The bodies of twenty-seven people were uncovered. One burial included glass beads, finger rings and ear rings, and was thought to be that of a Native American girl. No such artifacts were found in the other graves, which were determined to be white people.
The “Indian” remains were promptly sent to a museum in Iowa City, while the remaining twenty-six bodies were reverently taken to the Glenwood cemetery and reburied. A concerned Native American woman demanded that the girl’s body be given a proper reburial. She phoned state archaeologist Marshall McKusick several times but he refused to answer her calls. He later announced: “I don’t want that woman to think in any way that if she raises a fuss, I’ll give her a couple of boxes of bones.” Even an appeal to the governor was in vain, for he was “too busy”. It was not established with certainty that the skeleton at the museum was Native American. But the fact that it might have been a native skeleton was enough to assure that it was not to be handled reverently (like the twenty-six white skeletons), but scientifically.
Here is the blatant racism and contempt that fired Deloria’s wit and rage in most of the books he wrote. He writes how in Pennsylvania “the looting of Indian graves became a community function” when three Susquehannock villages were uncovered. Deloria emphasizes the irony that in December, 1764, the Paxton Boys massacred two villages of christian Susquehannocks (some perhaps later dug up), adding: “So, little over two hundred years later, the great-grandsons of the Paxton Boys were at it again.”
“Why Anthropologists Study Human Remains” is the title of an article in the spring 1996 issue of the American Indian Quarterly by Patricia M. Landau and D. Gentry Steele. They begin their defense of excavating human remains from cemeteries thusly: “One of the most controversial kinds of studies anthropologists undertake is that of biological remains of Native Americans.” Their article does little to ease the controversy. They display very little understanding of the Native American desire for repatriation of human remains from museums and university laboratories. Despite their insistence on being helpful to modern Native Americans cultures by providing them with valuable knowledge, archaeologists and physical anthropologists still operate under the principle that “the only good Indian is a dead (unreburied) Indian.”
Archaeologists today who may experience a twinge of guilt make a distinction between grave-robbers and archaeologists. They have honorable intentions in opening graves that grave-robbers lack, they tell us, and operate under the auspices of special rights and privileges endowed to them by science. In defending themselves against Native American critics like Vine Deloria, Jr., they allude to these special rights and privileges as their final justification. The scientist acknowledges no higher authority than science, and knowledge acquired in the name of science is a service rendered to all of humankind.
Native American scholars, however, acknowledge a higher authority than science when their cultures and burial grounds are at stake. This higher authority is unknown to scientists and goes most generally by the term Sacred. Having no scientific branch to intelligently deal with the Sacred, scientists can commit the most outrageous crimes against the Sacred and pretend to be totally unaware of it, and even desire praise for their transgressions. To them, a Pawnee grave left undisturbed is a shame, interesting archaeological data that cannot be gathered in the service of humanity, when for the Pawnee scholar James Riding In the grave is a monument to “human life with sacred qualities.” ( AIQ Spring 1996) Archaeologists cannot see themselves as grave-robbers. The thought is ridiculous to them.
James Riding In, however, sees anyone who digs up a grave as a grave-robber, and is devoted to protecting sacred burial grounds “from grave looters, including archaeologists.” From the tomb of Tutankhamen to the mausoleums of Greece and Rome; from the Musée de l’Homme in Paris to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., we see that the legacy of archaeology is one of grave-robbing. What scientists term as “archaeology” James Riding In refers to as “a spiritual holocaust.” He complains of the pretense of white superiority over the Native peoples "studied" and the resulting oppression:
Consequently, orgies of grave looting occurred without remorse. After the Pawnees removed from Nebraska to Oklahoma during the 1870s, local settlers, followed by amateur and professional archaeologists, looted virtually every Pawnee cemetery they could find, taking remains and burial offerings. Much of the "booty" was placed in an array of institutions including the Nebraska State Historical Society (NSHS) and the Smithsonian Institution. (AIQ Spring 1996)
The Polish poetess and Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska has written a short piece of black humor on archaeological museums. She expresses her morbid fascination with mummies, skulls and human remains in glass cases, adding: “But it would be unfortunate if my dear reader would for this reason suspect me of necrophiliac tendencies.” The poetess alludes to the necrophiliac tendencies of all human culture, a sort of religion of cadavers that lies at the heart of humanity’s morbid fascination with the past. Primitive peoples have been described as periodically digging up their dead, and, amidst the stench of the opened grave and decomposing remains, conducting ceremonies and rituals. Of course, the academic rituals surrounding archaeological excavations are very scientific, and therefore “acceptable” forms of necrophilia. The fascination with cadavers and skeletal remains, whether primitive or civilized, is a very irrational fascination, even if accompanied by “rational” scientific methodology.
Szymborska mentions the unequalled fascination of the ancient Egyptians with cadavers, and despite astounding preparations for the preservation of mummies, many were destroyed as a result of grave-robbers (many of whom were priests) unwrapping them to retrieve the jewels in the bindings. Some mummies were used for fuel, or ground into powder for their supposed healing power. This the poetess contrasts with the pure chance that allowed naturally preserved mummies of insignificant individuals to be preserved for thousands of years. The museums house the mummies and remains of dignitaries and nobodies, attracting the curious like flies, some merely gawking, others publishing scientific papers.
We read about the amazing happenings surrounding the mummy of Eva Peron in Tomás Eloy Martínez’ Santa Evita, and the “curse” surrounding it like that of Tutankhamen. The mummy of Lenin was the center of the entire Soviet state and its intelligentsia. A similar morbid fixation with the remains of president Buchanan led to his disinterment by scientists to determine if he had been poisoned. Martínez describes such a fixation in detail with the story of Eva Peron’s embalmed body, and the warnings he received about jeopardizing his salvation by proceeding with his book. The scientist who embalmed the official Argentinean sex symbol and first lady is hinted in Santa Evita to have had sexual intercourse with her cadaver.
The religious life of the entire occident is centered around a cadaver bleeding on an instrument of torture, just as the cadaver of Osiris was the center of religious life for the ancient Egyptians. Occidental civilization, with all its astounding technologies, is indeed dancing a danse macabre, as did the medieval French cronies of François Villon, who partied around the decomposing cadavers of their comrades still hanging from the gallows months after their executions, prey for crows and maggots. As Tomás Eloy Martínez implies, this morbid fascination is Forbidden, and impedes the spiritual coming of age of humankind, which remains eternally in a condition of adolescence.
Wislawa Szymborska’s poetic imagination takes her closer to our hominid ancestors than paleontologists are able to come: “I have always been fascinated by chance, and its unforeseeable giving and taking. Thousands and thousands of generations, an entire Alps of skeletons – all disappeared without a trace – and then suddenly, somewhere, sometime, there was a human who left his footprint in clay, the clay hardened, and the footprint was conserved, around which entire conferences of scholars would gather.” ( Dagens Nyheter, 16.VIII.97) The odd workings of chance are even evident in my recording of this statement by Szymborska, which was written in Polish, translated into English by James Putnam, and from English into Swedish by Bozena Mierzejewska, and finally re-translated into English by myself. That which is lost in the three translations is an essence like life. That which remains is itself a sort of mummy or skeletal remain. Even Homer reeks of the grave.
As far as any reform occurring in the thinking of archaeological grave-robbers – a miraculous awakening to the Sacred – the Pawnee scholar James Riding In plainly states: “It will never happen.” Weak attempts on the parts of archaeologists to “understand” the Native American point of view make them condemn looters and professional pot-hunters who only have money in mind, callously selling artifacts and human remains on the black market for profit.
The archaeologists, on the other hand, have noble motives. The delivery of artifacts and human remains from their sacred final resting places to the storerooms and display cases of universities and museums is however made possible by archaeologists receiving substantial salaries. In both cases - the commercial grave-robbers and the archaeologists - money exchanges hands in the commerce of human remains and artifacts. Is the money that the archaeologists pocket “cleaner” than the money pocketed by the grave-robbers? Devon A. Mihesuah (Choctaw), assistant professor of American Indian History at Northern Arizona University, and editor of the American Indian Quarterly, clarifies: “Millions of dollars, hundreds of jobs, and numerous journals would be at stake if anthropologists could no longer study Indian remains and their burial items.” ( AIQ Spring 1996)
Archaeologist Robert J. Mallouf sees archaeological and Native American communities as “natural allies” even while expressing the need for “the healing of wounds” between the two. How did the “wounds” come about if not from an adversary? The traditional Native American view of archaeologists is that of an unnatural (even aberrant) adversary. Sites containing human remains left undisturbed (whether dating from prehistory or more recently) are seen by archaeologists as “history books” which they are deprived of “reading”. They deem it a major loss for humanity that the knowledge available from such a “reading” of human remains is denied them by Native Americans who wish to protect these sites as sacred domains.
The archaeologists may argue, for example, that the distribution of the practice of cranial alteration like that of the Flatheads over North America would never have been known without examining the contents of burial grounds. Why is it so terrible not to know? The biological data gleaned by archaeologists from human remains provides a tiny amount of knowledge in a domain that is, always was and always shall be unknowable – a mystery. Why make a fuss over a little knowledge more or less? Scientists regard knowing as a virtue, and not knowing as something to be remedied like an illness. But sages all over the world have described the state of not knowing as bliss. One is content not knowing, accepting the fact that we dwell within an unknowable mystery, and that the only acceptable manner to confront the mystery is in a sacred manner.
Knowledge of cranial alteration, diseases, diets and other archaeological data does not make us wiser – it only increases our monstrous storehouse of knowledge that has proven to be an obstacle to attaining wisdom. Rather that the prehistoric dead rest in peace than to dig them up in order to proclaim to the world that they too suffered from syphilis. This view is shared by James Riding In, who sees a problem still present even after all the human remains linked to specific tribal groups today have been repatriated from museums and universities for reburial. He writes that the unclaimed human remains, prehistoric remains with no known connection to any tribal group today gathering dust in the halls of academia , even these must be reburied. The scientists look upon this view as radical, and the clash between the Sacred and science thus remains an insoluble problem in which science simply will not acquiesce to the demands of the Sacred. Riding In believes that the rest of us have a duty to act, to assure the Sacred a place among us even if it is against the will of science.
By naming a burial ground a “site”, archaeologists remove the status of sacred from it, and are able to proceed with desecrating graves and call it archaeology, with not the slightest twinge of conscience to interfere with their work. The gaping abyss in the knowledge of anthropologists and archaeologists which they call “prehistory” never can be filled. It is empty, aside from some stone tools, arrowheads, basket fragments and bones. Science can only surmise on the possibilities, and these guesses are closer to the technique of novelists than scientists. This emptiness of prehistory is sacred, like the emptiness one contemplates in deep meditation.
In the ancient Viking settlement Birka, near Stockholm, archaeologists have recently unearthed another grave, that of an important woman who was ceremoniously buried with a horse in the 8th century. The archaeologists, led by Lena Holmquist-Olausson, were overjoyed by the find, a “dream find”.(Dagens Nyheter 25.VI.97) Here is much data to be added to the knowledge already accumulated about the Viking past of Sweden. The cost of the excavations, along with the monetary cost, was that a final sacred resting place was disturbed, and rest becomes unrest for both the dead and the living descendants of the Vikings, the modern Swedes. The gain of such an archaeological find is quite evident. But the loss is less evident.
The ceremonious concern for the sacred with which the Viking woman was buried is no longer of consideration for her academic descendants. It seems that they are unable to explain the discrepancy between the taboo of opening a grave from the 1950s, and the supposed legitimacy of opening one from the 8th century. Apparently there is a “statute of limitations” on the Sacred. When the grandparents and parents of the archaeologists die, they will attend the funerals and listen to the priest speak of the “final rest”. Should night-marauding suburban vandals disturb these modern graves, a public outcry follows with much lip-service given to the holiness of the Swedish cemetery. The archaeologists would be greatly troubled to hear of this vandalism to the graves of their loved ones, just as Charlie Chaplin’s family was troubled when his body was stolen from his grave.
The Viking grave evokes a funeral ceremony 1,200 years ago filled with love and respect for the woman buried. But should anyone today truly desire a final resting place that is indeed final (when there is a “statute of limitations” on the sanctity of a grave today), then he or she will be obliged to be cremated, and with the help of a loved one insure that not one tooth or finger bone remain, and that the ashes be strewn in the middle of the ocean. Only then can one die knowing that grave-robbers will not steal one’s cadaver to make DNA tests on it, or the devil only knows what other necrophiliac mischief. Only when the ashes dissolve into oceanic currents can the loved one finally have the final resting place that is final, safe from desecration by grave-robbing ghouls.
The logical and precise explanations of the benefits of archaeological excavations are simply not seen as benefits to most Native Americans. The benefits go uniquely to the scientific community. The Native Americans know more about themselves than do the anthropologists and archaeologists, and do not need such knowledge. In the American Indian Quarterly (Spring 1996) Landau and Steele write that certain ethnographic data can only be acquired by examining human remains: “The information gathered from the study of human remains is valuable to physical anthropology and other scientists because it provides unique direct data and because it allows us to answer questions about prehistoric human life in great depth from many different perspectives.”
These human remains, however, were in almost every case buried during sacred ceremonies and rituals with the belief that the loved ones had gone to their final rest. This is common to all humankind. Disturbing these graves, as James Riding In states, not only brought unrest to the dead, but to the living: “Wandering spirits often beset the living with psychological and health problems.” Landau and Steele write condescendingly, as if they have come into an elementary school class to enlighten us children about how things really are in the grown-up world. Riding In stressed that his Pawnee culture always believed that “those who tampered with the dead did so with profane, evil or demented intentions. From this vantage point, the study of stolen remains constitutes abominable acts of sacrilege, desecration, and depravity.”( AIQ Spring 1996) For archaeologists and physical anthropologists, this must appear as an outlandish statement by a radical Native American dissident. And yet a very conservative idea lies behind it: the dead should be left alone.
Morbid preoccupation with the dead is a trademark of western civilization, over which reigns the cadaver of Jesus. Shakespeare’s last statement was a curse on anyone who moved his bones, for he knew the necrophiliac tendencies of his brethren. And yet his bones were moved! Milton’s skin and hair were bought and sold in the marketplace like a bauble, as was Mozart’s skull. Voltaire’s cadaver was maliciously disinterred. Body parts of countless christian saints became curios for chapels all over Europe. The perpetrators of these perverse acts were unaware that they were necrophiliac ghouls, far removed from the most basic spiritual teachings. Vine Deloria writes in God is Red how there exists an irreconcilable difference between the spiritual beliefs of the two societies. Western spirituality is history oriented, he writes, while Native spirituality is Earth oriented. Ancient scriptures from Asia Minor were paramount for the European invaders of the Americas, by far more meaningful than the continent beneath their feet. This irony is apparent in Daniel Webster's speech to Congress in 1849 advocating (in vain) the purchase of the “Indian Collection“ of George Catlin, paintings which are a national treasure today:
I go for this as an American subject – as a thing belonging to us – to our history – to the history of a race whose lands we till, and over whose obscure graves and bones we tread every day. I look upon it as a thing more appropriate for us than the ascertaining of the South Pole, or anything that can be discovered in the Dead Sea or the River Jordan. (as quoted by Catlin in Last Rambles)
It is as if the waves of European invaders of Turtle Island walked backwards into the continent. What they beheld in front of them was their history – their Manifest Destiny as God’s chosen people as proclaimed in ancient scriptures written – not in their homeland, Europe – but in Asia Minor. They did not really see the continent they were invading, did not enter it as sacred territory, which made it all the easier to lay waste. The astounding success of European colonialism around the world was possible because of this fundamental lack of reverence for the Sacred.
The scientific gains in disinterring human remains are accompanied by spiritual losses. Renouncing the scientific gains (which do not bring scientists closer to wisdom) leaves room for accepting spiritual gains. Minute examinations of the dead, far from making scientists more known to themselves, alienate them from their true selves – their spiritual selves. “Know thyself”, the most supreme teaching of western poetry, is ignored by most western people, who instead glut themselves on scientific suppositions, literary fiction, movies and a variety of other false paths that imprison them in a perpetual illusion from which they have no wish to be liberated. Thousands of cadavers have been removed from Native cemeteries across the continent, and in some cases some of their descendants are still alive, as those Chumash remains disinterred in Malibu and elsewhere. Why not seek traces of venereal disease, bone disease, or evidence of wounds in the remains of the great-grand parents of the archaeologists? Because they are white.
This hypocrisy will never be honestly confronted by archaeologists, it seems. Landau and Steele pretend to respect the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which calls for the repatriation of Native American remains to the respective tribal groups: “Physical anthropologists are willing to comply with NAGPRA’s terms, but the need remains for long-term study of some skeletal collections before repatriation. […]Physical anthropologists can reach conclusions by examining relatively small samples, but to insure that their conclusions are valid they require large samples.” ( AIQ Spring 1996)
They don’t get it! One bone cell from a disinterred Native American is too much. One shovelful of dirt from his grave is too much. One footstep on the burial ground in an irreverent manner is too much. Seeking identity examining teeth and bones, they stray from their own (spiritual) identity. Landau and Steele write that human remains are studied “to move forward in our understanding of past Native American populations and, by extension, all humans past and present.” This sounds very noble. But it does not coincide with the reality of knowing humanity, knowing thyself. When the material body dissolves into nothingness, one is left with the unanswered question: What is the spiritual essence of humanity? This essence, the major ingredient in our humanness, is left totally outside the consideration of science, for it is common knowledge that Spirit is not a subject revealed by scientific research. Nor do scientists have anything intelligent to say on the subject, despite their confounded academic presumption.
The intention of Landau and Steele to understand “all humans past and present” is indeed noble. We should not forget however that the streets of Hell are paved with noble intentions. To understand “all humans past and present” is closer to the calling of Shakespeare, Dante and the other poets than that of science, for the spiritual is of uppermost consideration to the bards. Ultimately, it is impossible even to know the person one sees in the mirror every day, let alone “all humans past and present.”
“Cursed be he who moves my bones” was Shakespeare’s last message to humanity. The tens of thousands of nameless people whose bones have been disinterred and manipulated by phrenologists, physical anthropologists, archaeologists and other scientists, had personalities, souls, families and admirers. Shakespeare’s curse applies to their bones as well. His poetic outlook is indeed the sacred outlook. Robert Graves adds: “Poetry is thus converted into a rapidly expanding institution which embodies from period to period all novel forms of specialized knowledge, and broadens its definition to include psychology, […] physical science and so on.” ( The Common Asphodel) With this in mind, one sees the difference between the poet Byron visiting the plain of Troy and the archaeologist Schliemann. The one walks in reverent awe, the other wreaks destruction. The poet was keenly aware of the Sacred, the archaeologist was not.
The present essay is not meant to denigrate the good work of archaeologists. It is a suggestion that they and other scientists instruct themselves in a very unscientific subject: the Sacred; that they proceed with their research in a sacred manner. Some archaeologists are again using native tools that emphasize the living rather than the dead. At the Morongo reservation in southern California there is a yearly agave harvest and roast. The Malki Museum is the host of this event, in which the agave is harvested with the traditional Cahuilla digging stick by, among others, archaeologist Daniel McCarthy. Here the archaeologist uses his scientific knowledge outside the usual academic environment to interact with the community at a very non-academic level. With the reality of living, not dead, people as the primary focus, a sacred manner has been introduced into the science of archaeology.
Very large excavations of skeletal remains are required by physical anthropologists to achieve the desired scientific data. In 1974 the skeletal remains of 942 individuals of the Lakota, Assinboin, Blackfoot and Cheyenne nations were meticulously studied to arrive at the conclusion that these groups were not closely related, a conclusion based on twenty-six skeletal traits of the crania. Apparently, the scientists believe that this “data” was worth the obscene desecration and sacrilege that they inflicted. People rooted in the Sacred have difficulty understanding this aberrant callousness, and are astonished that the scientists in question are unaware of the spiritual felony they commit, especially considering that the Lakota, Assinboin, Blackfoot and Cheyenne are still among us today – as living breathing human beings. It is hard to believe that the physical anthropologists would have no objections if the remains of their ancestors were thusly defiled.
Perhaps an archaeologist or physical anthropologists reading this essay would now be formulating a defense of his or her profession to convince such as myself that they are engaged in noble worthwhile activities in digging up the dead. If so, I can only suggest to such a reader that until he or she experiences a very unpleasant sting of shame, the grievance of Native Americans against their transgressions will remain beyond their intelligence. We Euro-Americans must undergo a “grief ritual” to fully understand the grievances of the Native Americans. Only then do we become sons and daughters of the same continent. Landau and Steele have not yet experienced the sting of shame: “ Therefore, all individuals are important; the examination of each is critical. This is a simple but important reason why many physical anthropologists advocate the detailed examination of many human remains.” ( AIQ Spring 1996) The scientists use the term “individuals” to refer to the dead. In a healthier community, “individuals” refers to the living.
Summing up their article, Landau and Steele write: “We recognize that our beliefs may not be appreciated by all, but we believe our views are as valuable and supportable as are alternative, Native American views.” To those who have intelligently considered the sacred aspects of the dead, the above reasoning is very questionable, if not devious. I must be ashamed for them. What? Shall those who wish to prevent their dead from being dug up be seen as merely having an “alternative” view to those who desecrate the dead? In such case, vice is merely an “alternative” to virtue, equally “as valuable and supportable” as views of those who value virtue.
The moral considerations of Native Americans towards their dead do not impose on archaeologists or physical anthropologists. And yet, these sciences impose damnably on the spiritual traditions of Native Americans, in such a way that entire communities are crying out in indignation and protest, which falls on deaf ears of people like Landau and Steele. Native American scholars confront the arrogance and snobbery of their non-Indian academic colleagues, sit on the same committees, argue with them and get no where with them. Devon A. Mihesuah writes: “Since other Americans are not on view [in museums] like Indians are, there is without question a double standard at work: non-Indian burials are left alone and those accidentally uncovered are immediately reburied, but archaeologists and pothunters deem it good and necessary to dig up Indians and display their remains and funerary items.” ( AIQ Spring 1996)
This double standard makes archaeologists, physical anthropologists and paleontologists understand “protection” of grave sites in a completely different way than Native Americans. For the latter, protection means that the graves are left undisturbed. For the former, it means protection against commercial pot hunters and grave robbers so that the graves instead may be disturbed academically with little wisk brooms and spatulas. They gather old bones as if by reflex, often not knowing what they will do with them after they are gathered and stored. In the Austin archives of the University of Texas, Devon A. Mihesuah saw aisle after aisle of human remains in boxes that had been there for fifty years and still had not been studied. In New York state in 1972 the last of three excavations of burial sites was finished to make way for Interstate 81. Archaeologists decided which remains were white, and which were Native American. The white remains were turned over to an undertaker for proper burial. The Native American remains were put in boxes at a museum for thirty-five years, and have never been studied.
From the realm of life into the realm of death, the official contempt and racism of American society towards Native America is still the status quo. As a Euro-American I experience such shame that I am, like Thoreau, quickly losing all respect for the entire American system, its warped values and greed for money and professional status that leaves no sacred thing undefiled.
Postscript April 14, 2006
THE TWO CUSTERS
In the American Indian Quarterly Summer/Fall 2005, archaeologist Jay F. Custer (yes, a relative of the infamous general Custer), writes with admirable humility of his slow realization of the Native American grievance against archaeologists. He had the opportunity to publish his article “Haunted by Pehin Hanska [Custer’s Lakota name]” in AIQ because of “the name – not necessarily my personal characteristics.” He writes that after many years of committing the normal archaeological transgressions against Native America which are routine, he found “a real need for personal atonement.” Unknowingly establishing himself as a model for other archaeologists who have not yet awakened to the pain they have inflicted, he writes: “My belated revelation that my work and my profession’s history caused real pain for a whole group of people [...] made me feel ashamed.”
His interest in archaeology started as a boy in Pennsylvania where he collected arrowheads found in plowed fields. But long into his ensuing career he was unable to make the link between these artifacts and living human beings today: “The connections passed right by living Indian people, and even their local historic progenitors, to a distant past where it was impossible to ‘prove’ a link between today's artifacts and living Indian people.” Serious study in archaeology did little to enlighten him about the living connection:
Classes about North American archaeology were separate from classes about living American Indian people. Rarely did the courses share any common reference. The archaeological past and the "ethnographic" present did not intersect. We never considered the possible relationships that living American Indians might have with archaeology, and my classes generally taught me that living American Indians had pretty much "lost their traditional culture" or were completely assimilated into Euroamerican society. [...] We anthropology students and most of our teachers had an actively maintained ignorance of Indian people's concerns…
The archaeologist Custer admits to having maintained “willful ignorance” throughout his education and much of his career:
It is also significant to note that just as my possible relationship with George Armstrong Custer had little effect on my professional career as an archaeologist, likewise my disregard of living Indian people and their concern with archaeological ethics, or lack thereof, had equally little effect. In fact, the less attention I paid to Indian people, the more quickly I advanced. [...]Even when I was involved in the removal of Indian skeletons from an in-ground public display, skeletons that are almost certainly from the ancestors of the Nanticoke people; and, even though my work was prompted by Nanticoke Indian complaints about the burial displays, I managed to avoid all contact with any Indian people. [...] The incredibly unpleasant truth of the matter is that it is very easy, indeed practically necessary, to avoid dealing with any Indian people and have a successful career in anthropology and archaeology
His “happy little world of ignorance” was to come to an abrupt end when “some members of the Nanticoke Indian community were very unhappy with me and my work.” After his first contacts with living Native Americans “the nasty consequences of my actions were made apparent to me, and I had to confront the fact that I was personally guilty of almost every possible archaeological sin relevant to the concerns of American Indian people.” The kindness which Custer’s relative was shown during his subsequent contacts with Native Americans was accompanied by their generous belief that “even willful ignorance could be excused once.” However, “further transgressions were not excusable.”
The “grief ritual” as mentioned previously on this webpage brings with it positive results: the truth is finally becoming the common coin of the realm after centuries of lies. Despite the accompanying pain for all concerned, the truth must obviously be better than continuing the contemptible lies. Euro-Americans like myself cannot find refuge from the guilt simply because we have not dug up native cemeteries. Jay F. Custer emphasizes “the responsibility of all living Euroamericans for profiting from American Indian genocide.” Alas, many of his colleagues do not yet possess the courage needed to take this step. They believed he was so absorbed by his Custer family guilt that he "lost" his objectivity "and was succumbing to the agendas of Indian people." The stubborn inability of his colleagues to see the light, their lack of courage to take the first step, is "troubling" to the archaeologist Custer. As his father lay dying, he attended a Sun Dance ceremony. "When the dancers emerged from the [sweat] lodge there was a sense that something very good had happened. Lakota prayers had been raised for a Custer."
Center of Shalawa Meadow Medicine Circle
February 12, 2006 (photo by author)
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For many academic people, knowledge that is not scientific is considered untrustworthy and often dismissed. However, Art has provided humanity with vital unscientific knowledge derived from exemplary intelligence that is impossible to dismiss. Bach, Shakespeare and da Vinci are the best examples of this. When it comes to the sacred, neither science nor religion has provided trustworthy knowledge for human kind, whereas for tens of thousands of years, Art has come up with the goods. Non-religious knowledge of the sacred ‒ musical knowledge, poetic knowledge, visual knowledge and the knowledge of arts like yoga, tai chi and qigong ‒ is not based on fairy tales like the immaculate conception. It is based on ancient traditions that are proven to be dependable while being thoroughly unscientific. In the virulent issues surrounding the transgressions of archaeology on Native American sacred sites and practices, the scientists still have very much to learn from the artists. The Ohlone people have inhabited what is called the San Francisco Bay Area for hundreds if not thousands of years. One artist among them, Linda Yamane, recently spoke of the need to let the burial grounds be: “It isn’t our inalienable right to pry into all things simply to satisfy our curiosity. Some things are considered sacred and should be left alone… We can take a break from analyzing and being in control.” (News from Native California , Spring 2008) This is reminiscent of the poetic knowledge expressed by John Keats. Feeling comfortable not knowing is what John Keats termed “negative capability”. In a letter to his brothers George and Tom, Keats explained this term as the state “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Scientists strive to know and are uncomfortable in a state of not knowing. It is imperative for them to know, their raison d'être. By being comfortable not knowing, however, one begins a contact with the Sacred Mystery, with no effort whatsoever. A mystery cannot be known, even by scientists weighed down with PhDs.
Update January 26, 2007
In 1977, Kenn Harper, now a well-known Iqaluit businessman, became "unhealthily obsessed" with the short, sad life of a young Polar Eskimo named Minik (left). Harper’s book, Give me my Father's Body: the Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo, became a best-seller in the North American book market. The boy Minik was one of six Greenland Eskimos brought to New York City in 1897 by Arctic explorer Robert E Peary. They were to be studied at the American Museum of Natural History at the request of anthropologist Franz Boas. Minik and his companions were brought to a damp basement room, and most of them soon came down with tuberculosis, against which they had little resistance. Studied, even as they were dying, by some of the most prominent anthropologists of the day, including Franz Boas and Alfred Kroeber, one can only think of Ishi’s ordeal in San Francisco, and the alarming frequency of such criminal behavior among the early anthropologists. What follows is the entry in Wikipedia for Minik:Early yearsNOTE: It also took nearly a century for the anthropologists to relinquish Ishi’s remains for proper burial in California.
Minik was raised in Greenland among the Inughuit, the northernmost band of Greenlanic Eskimos (Inuit). He became acquainted with Robert Peary when the explorer employed members of Minik's band on his many Arctic expeditions.
The move to the US
Minik was brought with his father, Qisuk, and four other members of his Northern Greenland band to the American Museum of Natural History in New York by Robert Peary in 1897. Although not quite brought against their will, these six Inuit were only vaguely informed as to the purpose and meaning of their trip; some wanted to see strange places, others simply did not want to be parted from their relatives. Peary promised them all that they would be able to return. Yet on their arrival, it became clear that they, along with a meteorite that Peary thought of scientific value, were to be objects of study and exhibit, human zoo animals more or less, and that there were no plans for their care, let alone for their return.
The scandal of Minik's father's body
The adult Inuit soon all became ill with tuberculosis which they were ill prepared to fight off, and all eventually died. One of the first to die was Minik's father, Qisuk, and the boy was inconsolable with grief. Minik pleaded for his father's body to receive proper burial, with traditional rites that only he (Minik) could administer. Yet already there were plans to preserve Qisuk's body for study – study impossible were he to be buried. The Museum's curatorial staff decided to stage a fake burial for Qisuk. They filled a coffin with stones, atop which a stuffed "body" was hidden under a cloth, and buried the box by lantern-light with Minik attending.
Following the death of all the adult Inuit, Minik was left a virtual orphan and was eventually adopted by William Wallace, the Museum's Chief Curator. Qisuk's body was sent to Wallace's own estate, where he operated a workshop for processing the skeletons of biological specimens, and there it was de-fleshed and mounted on an armature. In this form, Qisuk's body was returned to the Museum for display as the skeleton of a Polar Eskimo. Minik was yet unaware of this fact, and his adoptive father kept it well hidden from him. Despite this, after a space of a few years, the New York papers picked up on the irony of Minik's father's bones being on deposit in the museum, and the story circulated widely. Minik's pleading with the museum authorities and the publicity that the case had garnered were to be fruitless; his father's body was never released.
Return to Greenland
After eventually giving up on attempts to change the Museum's mind, Minik placed his trust in a campaign to get Peary to at least return him to his home. Peary and his camp eventually made the arrangements for Minik to be returned to Greenland. Although they represented themselves as having sent him back "laden with gifts", Kenn Harper found clear evidence that on the contrary, Minik was returned to Greenland with little more than the clothes on his back.
Minik had forgotten his language and much of his culture, and his life in Greenland was fraught with new difficulties. His people took him back, and taught him the skills he needed to know; he even became a fine hunter. He also acted as a guide and translator for visitors, playing a key role in the otherwise misguided Crocker Land Expedition of 1913. This latest acquaintance with American visitors proved another turning point and Minik resolved to return to the United States, and did so in 1916.
Return to the USA and death
On his return to the US Minik worked at a series of miscellaneous jobs, eventually he found work in a lumber camp in North Stratford, New Hampshire. His employer, Afton Hall, took him under his wing, and invited him to live with his family. Minik, along with many of Hall's family and workers, succumbed to the terrible influenza outbreak of 1918, dying despite the best medical attentions on 29 October 1918.
His father's new burial
Convinced that the remains of Qisuk and the three other adult Inuit who died with him should and still could be returned to Greenland, Kenn Harper worked his way through the resistance of the Museum of Natural History (which was reluctant to re-examine the case) and the red tape of two governments before finally being able, in 1993, to stand before a new grave in Qaanaaq in northern Greenland and witness the ceremony denied to Minik nearly a century earlier.
After bloody centuries of colonization of Native North America, colonial tendancies remain in place today, even in those members of the “dominant society” who truly regret the colonial tradition, myself included. Deeply ingrained in the discipline of anthropology is a stubborn resistance to acknowledging the genocidal truths of Euro-American interaction with Native North America in our short history. This prejudice in turn derives from the fundamental colonial nature of anthropology itself, and its desire to maintain a positive image of the colonial power which it represents. To uphold this positive image, dishonesty is required, even if it comes in the guise of a scientific article based on “proof”. Such is the article by B.H. which I have previously commented on above.
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Update April 7, 2007
CHUMASH ”RISK MINIMIZATION”
Another such dishonest scientific article proposes that the Chumash who went to the missions at the beginning of the 19th century had made a conscious choice of “risk minimization” when confronted by “high climatic variability, several years of droughts, and significantly elevated sea surface temperatures.”* That is, the brutal usurpation of their land and resources by the Spanish played less a role in their subjugation than the variations of climate that they had been successfully dealing with for over 11,000 years. This very odd scientific deduction, contested even by other anthropologists, originates in the desire to maintain a positive image of colonial power in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Two anthropologists who contest this particular deduction, Deana Dartt-Newton and Jon M. Erlandson, co-authored the article “Little Choice for the Chumash: Colonialism, Cattle, and Coercion in Mission Period California” (American Indian Quarterly, Summer/Fall 2006). That the idea of “risk minimization” comes from highly respected anthropologists considered experts on the Chumash is even more reason to lament this obvious dishonesty. In science, one can accumulate data and then make a conclusion from it, or first come to a conclusion and then manipulate the data to support it, being sure to ignore any data that contradicts it. The latter method is that used by the three writers who blame weather, and not the Spanish, for the missionization of the Chumash. Composing an argument contesting this claim is like arguing that fire is hot or water is wet. It is an argument that should not be required in an academic environment of honesty.
Dartt-Newton and Erlandson, however, took the trouble to do so. They quote a letter written in 1803 by the missionary Gregorio Fernandez from Mission La Purisima about how the mission was unable to provide all the Chumash “neophytes” with food. They continue: “Significantly, Fernandez’ letter makes no mention of drought, suggesting that the movement of many Chumash to the missions was not caused by natural climatic fluctuations, but by the severe effects of Spanish livestock grazing on the acorns, seeds and other plant foods that were once foundations of Chumash subsistance… Fernandez’ letter also suggests that Mission La Purisima, at least, was not capable of providing adequate food to its Chumash Indian population, raising doubts that the Chumash abandoned their traditional territories because of the better nutritional opportunities [‘risk minimization’] at the missions.”
The “risk minimization” theory helps to obscure the brutal assault on Chumash culture by the Spanish, their position slightly above livestock at the missions, the regular degradations, torures and executions, the diseases, the land loss, the despair. In 1803 the viceroy of New Spain decreed that converted natives could not live in their villages, and they were thus forced to move to the missions as a free source of labor and lust. In 1802 there were approximately 200 Chumash at the missions. After the viceroy’s decree in 1803, the mission population increased to approximately 1,200. It is hard to see how this population increase is due to fluctuations in the weather. Modern Chumash descendants are outraged over the concept "risk minimization", as they are over the term "neo-Chumash" mentioned above.
Dartt-Newton and Erlandson, one of whom acknowledges two of the authors of this theory as "old friends", nonetheless politely ask Daniel O.Larson, John R. Johnson, and Joel C. Michaelson to reflect a little more deeply on their position, so that they can “consider the ramifications, for instance, of reducing the causes of the Nazi Holocaust or the killing fields of Cambodia to natural environmental change or ecological principles. How are these events different from the apocalyptic history of Western colonization in Native North America?"
* Daniel O.Larson, John R. Johnson, and Joel C. Michaelson, "Missionization among the Coastal Chumash of Central California: A Study of Risk Minimization Strategies," American Anthropologist 96 (1994).
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Professor Emeritus in Anthropology
and Comparative Religions
April 1, 1920 - October 3, 2006
From his obituary in Dagens Nyheter 11.X.06
"In the public debate on culture it is sometimes said that western researchers who made a career studying third and fourth world cultures, exploited these peoples for their own egotistical purposes. The religion of the [Wind River] Shoshone was much more intact 50 years ago [when Hultkrantz lived among them] than it is today. A few years ago Hultkrantz was visited by a delegation of Shoshones who wished to express their appreciation of his life-long reaearch and take part in his unpublished field notes, which they knew contained much traditional material that has now disappeared and is forgotten. Åke Hultkrantz’s wife Geraldine Hultkrantz is now editing this material to be put on the internet in English so that researchers and Shoshone interested in preserving their culture will be able to read it. Hultkrantz has thus had the opportunity to give back that which he previously received and help enrich the culture which he studied so meticulously."
Professor of comparative religions
NOTE: In the 1960s Åke Hultkrantz was asked to write a chapter for the Smithsonian Institution's prestigious Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 11 (Great Basin). Hultkrantz devoted much time and his usual meticulous scholarship in writing "Mythology and Religious Concepts." To his bitter disappointment the Smithsonian editors discarded almost 60% of his original text and rewrote parts of it. He compained to the editors that it looked as if it had been "treated in a butcher's shop", and wondered: "Is there any point at all to publish?" The text was not included in vol. 11, and remained in manuscript for forty years until it was published in the memorial issue of Acta Americana (vol. 14, no. 2, 2006) devoted to Åke Hultkrantz, in which he was shown the respect which his American colleagues were unable manage.
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John Peabody Harrington
Genocides of California
Map of Marisolia
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