Published On: Tue, Mar 15th, 2016
News | By

Tribe to jointly repatriate Tennessee remains





The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will join six other tribes in a joint repatriation and subsequent reburial of a set of human remains unearthed in 1976.  The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) contacted a total of 13 tribes earlier last year to receive requests for transfer of control of the remains of “a single adult male Native American”.

Joining the EBCI in taking joint transfer of control in this matter are the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, the Shawnee Tribe, and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma.

According to information from the National Park Service, the remains were originally removed from the Dixon Creek Site (Tennessee) in April 1976.  Internment was in a 5×4 foot burial pit with two “shell-tempered ceramic vessels” being found with the male as associated funerary objects.

NPS information on the ceramic vessels places them in the Middle Cumberland Mississippian Period (1050-1450).

“This project is pretty interesting in that the site from which the human remains were excavated is outside of the boundaries of the judgments of the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) and the U.S. Court of Claims,” said Miranda Panther, NAGPRA officer with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Historic Preservation Office.  “The site is located in Smith County, Tenn., and the judgment recognizing the area as the aboriginal lands of the Cherokee extends only to the southern bank of the Cumberland River.”

She added, “This is based on the 1785 Treaty between the Cherokee and the U.S. government signed at Hopewell, SC.  The site where the human remains were recovered is just north of the Cumberland River, placing it outside the judgment of the ICC or the U.S. Court of Claims.  There was a land deal between Cherokee chiefs and the Transylvania Company led by Richard Henderson, which is represented by the Treaty of March 17, 1775.  This treaty includes the area north of the Cumberland River which would include the site.  However, the treaty was never ratified nor acknowledged by the United States or by the states of Virginia and North Carolina.”

Panther said as a result of the non-ratification, the treaty cannot be used to establish aboriginal occupation.  “As a result of these findings, the interested tribes with an aboriginal connection to the area signed a disposition agreement prior to this case going before the NAGPRA Review Committee.”

“A decision has not been made yet as to which tribe or tribes will take the lead, but the EBCI THPO looks forward to working with the tribes listed in a collaborative and joint effort to conduct a respectful reburial of this individual as expeditiously as possible.  There is a 30-day waiting period once the Federal Register notice is published, but hopefully the reburial can take place this year. It can take a while to locate an appropriate reburial site and select a date that works for all tribes who would like to attend and/or participate in the reburial.”