By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
In an unique collaboration, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) joined Eastern Shawnee tribal officials in a recent joint repatriation and reburial of 10 individuals. The remains were reburied at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Kentucky and another undisclosed location owned by the Eastern Shawnee.
“These types of collaborations among tribes are highly significant in accomplishing our shared goal of conducting respectful reburials of Native American human remains as expeditiously as possible,” said Miranda Panther, EBCI NAGPRA officer. “All of these tribes in these joint efforts have specific traditions, beliefs, and procedures they observe in regards to their NAGPRA work, but we all share the desire to work together to rebury human remains in secure locations with the reverence they deserve.”
She related that the EBCI THPO has been working on this project since 2012 in a co-leadership role with the Eastern Shawnee. The remains are from three counties in Kentucky including Christian, Casey and Scott and have been housed at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore.
According to the National Park Service, the remains were originally removed between 1930-71 by Georg Karl Neumann, a physical anthropologist from Indiana University, and they were acquired by Oregon State when the school acquired the Neumann Collection in 1976. Information from the NPS states, “It is reasonably believed that the individuals in this notice are all from the Fort Ancient culture period (circa 1100 to 1650 A.D.).
Panther commented, “The EBCI secured a reburial location in Kentucky thru partnership and assistance from the U.S. Forest Service at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. We took a leadership role in maintaining communication amongst the affiliated tribes and Oregon State University. We assisted in drafting a repatriation agreement and in the completion of any necessary paperwork.”
She related that the remains from Christian County will be buried at Land Between the Lakes.
Tina Tilley, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area supervisor, said, “We feel honored to share in the reburial of ancestors to members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Cherokee, North Carolina and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. We look forward to our partnerships growing because of the rich history these two tribes have at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.”
Glenna J. Wallace, Chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, praised the collaborative work of both tribes. “Collaboration with the EBCI has been exceptional. We could not have asked for a more harmonious relationship from beginning to end.”
She related that their tribe has done one repatriation prior to this one, but that one involved remains being found on a site and reburied at that same site. “This is the first of this nature, meaning the remains had been removed from Kentucky to Indiana, ultimately going to Oregon and remaining there for some time. We flew to Oregon, picked up the remains, returned to Oklahoma and then drove them to Kentucky where they were buried in their homelands.”
Chief Wallace credited Johi Griffin, EBCI THPO historic sites keeper, with meeting them in Kentucky to help with the reburials. “He patiently explained each action taken in a reverent, culturally-significant manner. We females stayed back respecting the culture and did not participate in the reburial.”
The reburial itself was performed simply and respectfully noted Chief Wallace. “Both tribes believed that all ceremonies had been conducted previously, that all songs had been sung, all appropriate rites had been conducted, that there was not a repatriation ceremony. We merely wanted the spirits of these human beings to be at peace and believed they could not be until they were placed in Mother Earth.”
She went on to say, “It was a spiritual experience for all of us. It was intended to be a fulfilling of our responsibilities to our ancestors; it turned out to be so much more. It was truly an example of less is more. No extravagant ceremony, no lengthy rites, no lofty words, no singing, but the atmosphere was filled with a spiritual peace we all felt. After cleansing ourselves, we left them in Mother Earth’s womb.”
Panther said the entire experience was meaningful and important for both tribes. “I feel that these tribal partnerships are mutually beneficial because we are stronger working together, and we can be even more successful in our NAGPRA endeavors. We are able to learn what works for other tribes, share that knowledge, and apply it to our work here at the EBCI THPO. We are happy to share any helpful information with other tribes, as we are all working towards achieving the same goal.”