It had not been until 1990, when President Bush signed the NAGPRA into law, that the natives had finally gotten their rights recognized by the government.
The dam has been built in 1950, when the government did not pay much attention to the Native Americans and to their rights. In the present, the government brings into the question the issue of people risking a flood and a lesser production of energy. It is remarkable how people change over the years, and how the U.S. government plays with the rights of its citizens. Any good-hearted man would believe that the least that the government can do is to give the territory back to its rightful owners. Perhaps the natives would get a little bit of their honor back after centuries of suffering by regaining the burial sites of their ancestors.
This case is not singular in the U.S., as various tribes have struggled to regain their ancient cemeteries back from the government. In some cases, the authorities have even collaborated with the tribes in giving them their lands back. A Narrangansett Indian tribe has actually received help from the authorities in retrieving their land in 1982, even before the coming of the NAGPRA into law. A member of the Narrangansett tribe present at the place of the ancient burial site has even claimed that "there are very few people who have the sensitivity to understand the connection between the contemporary and ancient Indians and realize that we are one and the same." (Jordan Kerber, 2006, pp. 60) Most cultures feel that their cemeteries and their ancestors are not necessarily a vital part of their society, since they are long gone and cannot intervene in any way with their actions.
In the present case, where Indians are fighting to get the government to admit their rights, the authorities also feel the difficulty of an ethical dilemma. The ethical dilemma is what gives uniqueness to the condition, as the other "Government vs. Indian tribes" cases involved lesser risks and drawbacks.
It would seem that money is much more important than human rights in certain occasions. A perfect example is the building of a hotel at Honakahua in the Hawaii when hundreds of human remains were removed from an ancient Indian cemetery in order to make place for the building. Fortunately, the hotel's construction was halted after intense protests from the Hawaiians, and, the hotel has been built a few hundred meters further from the burial site. It had not been until the second half of the twentieth century that the government had actually started to pay attention to the demands made by Native Americans. Until that time however, a large number of Indian cemeteries in the U.S. are presumed to have been destroyed in order to make room for certain buildings.
Similar to how other governments have done when certain ethnic groups have demanded for their rights to be respected, the U.S. government should conform and act accordingly. Of course, the authorities would first have to be one hundred percent certain that the burial site actually belongs to the tribe claiming it. The fact that Indians are not accustomed to the reburial of their ancestors' remains makes the matter even more difficult, since a negotiation would not be possible. Apparently, there is no other solution than to have the land retrieved to its owners, and large funds to be invested into a project that would divert the water from its course. The impacts of such an action would be devastating, both from an economical point-of-view, and from one that takes risk into attention.
One does not need to consider such an occurrence to be illogical and plainly ridiculous, since the fate of the hydroelectric dam has been sealed ever since the pouring of its foundation. If the authorities wanted to avoid having to put in additional funds, they should have initially thought about the repercussions that their actions might have. Considering the fact that the ancient burial site had been discovered approximately a mile above the dam, it is possible that the authorities did not know about its existence.
When all's said and done it does not matter whether or not the authorities did or did not know about the burial site existence. The burial site will most probably be given back to the tribe having claimed it and the authorities will suffer the economical and political aftermath of their actions.
1. Bocek, Barb. (1992). "Native American Studies Collections." Retrieved July 23, 2009, from the Stanford University Web site: http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/ssrg/native/appf.html
2. Boszhardt, Robert. (2000). "Native American Cemeteries." Retrieved July 22, 2009, from the Lacrosse Library Web site: http://www.lacrosselibrary.org/genealogy/cemeteryhistories/nativeamerican.asp
3. Kerber, Jordan E. (2006). "Cross-cultural collaboration: Native peoples and archaeology in the northeastern United States." U. Of Nebraska Press.
4. Yalom, Marilyn. (2008). "The American resting place: four hundred years of history through our cemeteries and burial grounds." Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Boszhardt, Robert. (2000). "Native American Cemeteries." Retrieved July 22, 2009, from the Lacrosse Library Web site: http://www.lacrosselibrary.org/genealogy/cemeteryhistories/nativeamerican.asp
Yalom, Marilyn. (2008). "The American resting place: four hundred years of history through our cemeteries and burial grounds." Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Bocek, Barb. (1992). "Native American Studies Collections." Retrieved July 23, 2009, from the Stanford University Web site: