As I blogged a few days ago, the repatriation movement (the return) of human remains and other items from museums and educational institutions to their rightful owners and communities continues to grow stronger.
The press reports that Northern Mexico’s Yaqui people buried their lost warriors after a two-year effort to rescue the remains from New York’s American Museum of Natural History, where they laid in storage for more than a century.
The burial on November 16 capped an unprecedented effort by U.S. and Mexican Indian tribes to press both governments to bring justice and closure to the 1902 massacre by Mexican troops that killed about 150 Yaqui men, women and children.
“They would not be at peace with their souls and conscience until they got their people back to their land,” said Jose Antonio Pompa of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.
The 12 skulls and other remains were buried in Vicam, a traditional Yaqui town in western Sonora state in Mexico.
The Pascua Yaqui tribe of Arizona took up the fight to have the bones returned.
“The approach we use is that we are one people . . . the border is just an artificial concept,” said Robert Valencia, vice chairman of the Pascua Yaquis.
U.S. Indian remains are protected under the North American Indian Graves Protection Act. But the law does not address Mexican remains held in the United States so the Arizona tribe contacted the Mexican Yaquis and they in turn contacted the Mexican government, which also decided to get involved.
Sidepoint – The remains were apparently collected by a U.S. anthropologist Ales Hrdlicka who hacked off the heads of the massacre victims and boiled them to remove the flesh to study Mexico’s “races.” He sent the resulting collection to the New York museum.
This “study” reminds me of the presumed science of phrenology in the 19th and 20th centuries in which the study of the shapes of skulls was thought to provide scientific evidence and different peoples and races. The surgeon general of the U.S. Army, for example, issued an order in about 1860 for U.S. soldiers to collect American Indian heads so these types of study could be conducted on American Indians.