In this exercise, I am asking you to consider hypothetical situation. Pretend that Schoolcraft College was offered several boxes that contain a number of Native American artifacts. A wealthy former student has donated them to the Anthropology Department to use for displays and in training students. Schoolcraft’s President, asks that you look at the objects and give a recommendation about what would be the ethical course of action.
You open the box and discover a wide range of objects. Some artifacts you can clearly identify as being Ojibwe in origin – there are containers of birch bark construction with quillwork, as well as some beautiful beadwork on moccasins and leggings. There is an unlabeled box of arrow points, whose origin you are uncertain of, as there are no accompanying notes. There are some Chaco-style pottery shards from the Southwest. Other small artifacts have intricate beadwork that may be symbolic; again, there is no province, but you think they may be from one of the groups on the Plains.
At the very bottom of the box, you find two small bones: both from a human hand.
Write a 600 word formal letter with your recommendations to Schoolcraft’s President, describing your suggestions for how Schoolcraft might handle this situation. As a professional archaeologist, you will need to support your ideas with facts and previous or pending cases that have handled ritual objects and human remains, of course.
How will you balance your commitment to science as a researcher with your obligations and ethical responsibilities as an anthropologist?
In the task of writing your letter, you will need to:
- Review pp. 16 and 114-115 in your text; identify which items are of concern and which are not.
- Address issues raised by NAGPRA [the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act]
- Find at least two examples of how other NGPRA cases have proceeded in the past. For example, University of Michigan’s Grave Injustice eloquently makes the Native American case for the return of these types of materials. Be sure to see the embedded video, U of M return Native American human remains (Time 3:58. Transcript). Please note that this plea to the University is an old one (2008) – U of M has begun the process of returning the remains to the Ojibwe community (2012), so if you choose this example you will need to make sure that your information is current.
- Make specific recommendations of what to do with all of the artifacts. Be clear on both your scientific and ethical reasoning for your suggestions. How do you see the college’s responsibilities to students? To the wider community?
Use anthropological terms when possible, and to clearly cite any outside sources that you use (MLA format).