Indians want the state to speed return of bones

May 15, 1994|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

CROWNSVILLE -- Indian leaders argued yesterday the fine points of regulations designed to implement the return of Indian remains to the proper descendants for reburial.

The Maryland Historical Trust, a state agency, has been trying for two years to craft regulations in support of a state law passed in 1992 that would "repatriate" the remains to their lineal or cultural descendants.

The law also provides for scientific study that would be "of benefit to Maryland."

The trust has bones and bone fragments of about 80 Indians collected through the years for study. The state wants to give them back after a three-year inventory period.

But Indian leaders said at the public hearing yesterday that three years is too long to wait and that they haven't been given enough opportunity to, among other things, participate in the regulatory process.

Joseph Raincrow, a Bethesda minister, spoke on behalf of four of Maryland's largest tribes -- the Youghiogheny branch of the Shawnee Indians, the Piscataway, the Nause-Waiwash Band and the Pocomoke-Occahannock tribe -- making these points:

* Indians oppose the study of their ancestors' remains and ask that the state regulations eliminate all provisions that permit such study.

* Indians oppose non-Indians defining who is and who is not an Indian, as is written into the regulations, which would require the Maryland Historical Trust to make such a definition.

* Indians oppose the broad powers of regulation given to the state regarding applications, transfer of remains, appeals and approval of archaeological studies.

* Indians want to cut the proposed inventory time of three years by the Maryland Historical Trust to one year to speed up repatriation.

Mr. Raincrow said he welcomed negotiation with state officials, but warned that the Indian groups would not be content until "the last bone of our ancestors is returned to the ground."

Billy Red Wing Tayac of the Piscataway Indian Nation said he thought the state was making an effort, for the first time, to reconcile its differences with the Indian groups.

"But we have to hold them to that effort," he said. "We have an obligation and duty to rebury our ancestors."

Katherine Frick, a member of the state's burial task force, which is trying to resolve the differences, cautioned that the state should not act in haste.

"We're forming policy here and that policy will become engraved in stone," she said.

J. Rodney Little, whose state office of Historical and Cultural Programs has also been trying to resolve the matter, said he hoped the state and the Indian groups could reach agreement by the first of the year.

"We're open to negotiation and compromise," he said. "This meeting today is part of that process. But we're not interested in moving fast just for the sake of moving fast."

After the meeting, Mr. Raincrow said he wasn't sure state officials were listening, even now.

"The state is in a hurry to get this finished, but they're obliged to think about what we care about," he said.

The state will accept recommendations on the regulations through May 31. They should be sent to the Maryland Historical Trust, 100 Community Place, Crownsville 21032.

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