Tuesday, June 13, 2006  

First Nation issues

The great grandson of the Apache leader Geronimo has appealed to the big chief in the White House to help recover the remains of his famous relative - purportedly stolen more than 90 years ago by a group of students - including the President's grandfather.
(read the rest here.)

I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately, thinking about how first nations often suffer unbelievable indignities at the hands of anthropologists, pranksters, etc. It's one thing if the graves are a thousand years old (although some say that doesn't matter, either) and quite another if the remains come within reasonable living memory.

I read the above story and immediately thought of two others. One is that of Ishii, the last Yahi, who ended up living at the museum in Berkeley (early 1900's) among the artifacts of his immediate family, who eventually perished, in part because of the lack of those artifacts (fur cloaks, hunting bows and arrows), and his story has always made me very sad, especially when I think of him looking at the handful of people around him, and realizing, this is all that is left us.

In 2000, I learned of another incredible story through a documentary I saw at the Taiwan Independent Documentary Film Festival where I had gone to show my own documentary, Poets Without Borders.
Niillas Somby comes from a small group of Sami, or Lapps, who inhabit northern Scandinavia. He is fighting an almost Kafka-esque battle against the Norwegian authorities, trying to compel them to release the skull of a rebellious ancestor.

Mons Somby, Niillas' ancestor, and Alask Hetta were executed in 1854 for murder, following a rebellion against the government, which claimed two Norwegian lives. Their bodies were claimed by the State for scientific research, and their skulls are held to this day, part of a collection of 900 skulls at The Anatomical Institute, in Oslo.

Give Us Our Skeletons is a striking film about the struggles of the Sami people of Norway to reclaim the remains of immediate ancestors from the Norwegian authorities. What is also interesting, is the racial coding of two groups who share the same territory- the Lapps and the people who eventually became the Norwegians, and how that coding translates into racist legal and scientific practice designed to prove and promote inferiority.

You can find out more about this interesting documentary here from First Run Icarus Films.

Geronimo's skull is still at Yale. Along with a few other bones. Prescott Bush is buried in the Conneticut. And George W. Bush? Well, he's around.

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