Indians balk at bones burial plans

March 24, 1994|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff Writer

A fragile accord with leaders of Maryland's Native American community has come unglued, threatening the state's plans for returning some of the Indian remains in its archaeological collection for reburial.

Indian leaders say they had too little input -- or none -- into proposed rules to put into effect a 1992 law permitting "repatriation" of human bones to lineal descendants, or to groups that can show a "cultural affiliation" with them. The rest would be held by the state and made available for scientific study.

Some Indians now want the rules scrapped, and new legislation enacted to prohibit all scientific study of Indian remains and require their return for reburial.

That has renewed fears among archaeologists that important scientific information locked up in the bones may be lost forever.

"I am really nervous about where this is going," said Richard B. Hughes, state archaeologist.

Archaeologists have been "very willing to compromise," he said. They aren't happy, but "they accepted that it was the right thing to do." But, if Indians are determined to rebury all remains in the state's collection without study, archaeologists "may feel they have no choice but to fight this," he said.

Mr. Hughes has worked for nearly two years to draft a proposal that was acceptable to the Indian community and consistent with the law. But several Indians who were consulted said they never agreed to anything.

"Richard [Hughes] mistook good manners for agreement," said Katherine D. Frick, of the American Indian Intertribal Cultural Organization, in Rockville.

Although there are differences of opinion within the Indian community, she said, "the general consensus . . . is that they are not happy with these regulations and they would rather see another stab at it." The legislature's review panel has held up the proposed rules, which were to be discussed at a hearing today at 4:30 p.m. in the Legislative Services Building on State Circle in Annapolis.

State officials had consulted for more than a year with the Maryland Commission for Indian Affairs -- a majority of whose members are Native Americans. Officials had made some concessions to Indian concerns and believed they had found at least a grudging consensus.

The commission's burial task force remained opposed to provisions allowing study of some Indian remains. A few Indian leaders had vowed to seek new legislation to repatriate all Indian remains. But there was no sign of efforts to stop the regulations from being adopted.

Some Indian leaders, it turns out, were left out of the loop.

Among them were Billy Redwing Tayac, chief of the Piscataway Nation Inc., one of three Piscataway groups; and Joseph Raincrow, chief of the Youghiogheny River Band of Shawnee Indians Inc.

They said they were unaware until recently that regulations were being drafted. With the assistance of Montgomery County Del. Henry B. Heller, D-19, they asked for tomorrow's hearing.

Chief Tayac said he wants to see all Indian remains "returned to Indian people for traditional . . . burial."

Chief Raincrow, a Bethesda minister and lecturer whose grandparents were Cherokee and Shawnee, said he wants more Indian people in Maryland heard on the issues.

"I'm realistic. I understand that some things can't get done because of laws and politics," he said. "But I would like to see all the people buried in the earth."

Russell Leigh of Rockville, a Cherokee-Blackfoot and member of the Indian Commission's burial task force, said the regulations were drafted without adequate hearings or consideration for their true costs.

"I want to scrap the whole thing," he said. "I don't think research will show anything except that they were old, and they died.

"As a Native American, I believe that once you've died, it's time to go back to the earth."

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