By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is set to rebury three sets of ancient remains removed from two historic sites in Alabama. According to a notice by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dated Thursday, Jan. 7, “…the human remains described in this notice are Native American based on their presence in prehistoric archaeological contexts.”
A total of 15 federally recognized tribes were consulted on the remains and possible repatriation and reburial. “These human remains were located during a recent validation of the Tennessee Valley Authority NAGPRA cultural items stores at the University of Alabama,” the TVA notice states. “No known individuals were identified. No associated funerary objects are present.”
According to the TVA, the remains include a female age 20-24, a 15-year-old of undetermined gender and another individual not identified by age or gender.
“We will be conducting a joint reburial effort with the Cherokee Nation, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, and the Chickasaw Nation,” said Miranda Panther, EBCI NAGPRA officer. “The reburial will be a collaborative effort on behalf of the tribes listed, and the EBCI THPO (Tribal Historic Preservation Office) is honored to be able to participate in such an important and somber task.”
Panther said the burials will occur in Alabama later this year. “Each reburial is completed in the most respectful and humane manner.”
The remains were originally collected in the 1950s from two archaeological sites in Alabama known as 1LI14, located in Limestone County, and 1LI37, located within the current Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. The first site is located near a “truncated pyramidal mound and associated shell mound or village near Decatur, Alabama”, and it is believed to have been occupied during the Middle Woodland and Mississipian periods. The second site is believed to have been occupied during the Archaic Period.
“Whenever feasible, after considering factors such as security and protection, it is always our preference to rebury at the original site,” Panther added, “or as close to it as possible.”
These reburials represent just the tip of the iceberg in these types of cases. “I currently have 11 other NAGPRA projects in progress with the TVA,” Panther noted. “Each project can take anywhere from eight months to three years to complete. Some projects have taken as long as five years to complete as there are many complex factors that have to be taken into consideration. The NAGPRA process will continue to be ongoing as it addresses both collections from established NAGPRA inventories and the inadvertent discovery of human remains.”
Panther said that, as of a 2012 TVA Native American Consultation meeting, the TVA was in possession of 9,000 sets of human remains and around 125,000 funerary objects. “The EBCI will not be culturally-affiliated or potentially culturally-affiliated to all of the human remains and funerary objects in this massive NAGPRA collection, but we will continue to consult and work with TVA as it pertains to those projects located within the traditional Cherokee aboriginal territory. NAGPRA was enacted 26 years ago, and we still have a great deal of work to accomplish in order to rebury all Cherokee ancestors.”