Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

January 13, 2023

The Smithsonian is Missing -- The Racist Dark History of Collecting Native Remains is Silenced

“The elders told us that they need to come home out of respect,” says Vincent Randall, a Yavapai-Apache who works on repatriation issues. “Otherwise the consequences of fooling around with these things are alcoholism, suicide, domestic violence and all of society’s woes.” Photo Terry Snowball / National Museum of American Indian

Whitewashing History and Harboring Native Remains

The Smithsonian paid bounties for Native American skulls for racist studies resulting in grave robbing, executions of Native people and the Massacre at Sand Creek. Today, the Smithsonian refuses to make the facts public, and delays the return of Native American remains to their homelands for reburial.

Brenda Norrell
Censored News
January 13, 2023

In a new database showing institutions harboring Native American remains -- the Smithsonian is missing.

The Smithsonian is concealing from the public its collection of more than 10,000 Native remains, and the dark history of its racist skull collection -- for the purpose of intelligence studies based on race -- which led to grave robbing. It was one reason for the Massacre at Sand Creek.

This week, ProPublica released an extensive database of museums, universities, and others who are harboring Native American remains. The absence of data from the Smithsonian is glaring. The Smithsonian is dodging the Native American Grave and Protection Repatriation Act.

Pawnee Professor James Riding In, in a series of interviews with Censored News, described the Smithsonian's study of Native American skulls, and the bounties paid for Native American remains, which led to executions, grave robbing and the Massacre at Sand Creek.

The discovery of the brain of Ishi at the Smithsonian, which the Smithsonian initially would not return for reburial in California until there was a public outcry, led to our investigations into the Smithsonian's horrific history and collection of Native American remains.

The research shows that Samuel G. Morton, in the early 1830s, worked in craniology and phrenology, to devise tests on skulls, in relation to intelligence and crania size. 

"He never questioned the morality of stealing Indian crania from graves," Riding In said.

Morton paid soldiers, settlers, and others for Indian skulls. With bounty offered, American Indian skulls became sought after in what Riding In describes as a cottage industry.

The United States Army established a program during the 1860s for studying Indian crania. Among those massacred, beheaded and their crania taken, were a group of friendly Cheyenne, Kiowa and Arapaho near Sand Creek, Colo.

Calling it "virulent racism," Riding In said archaeologists must be viewed as the grave looters their history proves them to be. American Indians painstakingly prepare their dead for burial.

Many Native people feel that "disinterment stops the spiritual journey of the dead, causing the affected spirits to wander aimlessly in limbo."

"These affected spirits can wreak havoc among the living, bringing sickness, emotional distress, and even death," Riding In said.

Native people believe that anyone that disrupts a grave is an "evil, profane, and demented individual who plans to use the dead as a means of harming the living."

Reburial within Mother Earth enables those spirits to continue their journeys.

Today, we are republishing our series. The research began more than 20 years ago. 

After we began exposing the Smithsonian's racist studies and collection of Native American remains, in the years that followed, the Smithsonian refused to respond to our questions.

Read more:

Smithsonian -- Without Ethics or Morality

Collection of Native Skulls

Censored News

In the dark cavities of American history -- between the pages of the creation of the Constitution and the proclamation of America as a champion of human rights -- there is a haunting chapter missing. James Riding In, Pawnee historian and professor, can prove it.

The U.S. Army paid a bounty for the crania of American Indians for research designed to prove a white supremacist theory, that whites were superior to other races based on their skull size.

New database reveals where Native American remains are being held

Censored News shows where remains of Dine', Oglala, Tohono O'odham, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Muscogee and other on the Trail of Tears were removed and being held.

Whitewashing history -- disconnecting people from the land by denying they are descendants

Seminoles struggle for the return of ancestors from the Smithsonian

In her book, The Tree that Bends: Discourse, Power, and the Survival of the Maskoki People, Patricia Wickman "tackles this idea that somehow the modern Seminole and Miccosukee are disconnected from more ancient Indigenous people of Florida. She makes the case that this is an intentional white-washing of history, much like the Mound Builder Myth of the Ohio Valley, which was used by nineteenth-century Americans to justify a push west and a land grab. In other words, if these Indigenous people have no real deep connections to the land, moving them out is perfectly justified."

Smithsonian dodges Native American Graves and Repatriation Act

ProPublica released its new series this week and describes how the Smithsonian is avoiding compliance with NAGPRA

"The Smithsonian Institution today holds in storage the remains of roughly 10,000 people, more than any other U.S. museum. However, it reports its repatriation progress under a different law, the National Museum of the American Indian Act. And it does not publicly share information about what it has yet to repatriate with the same detail that NAGPRA requires of institutions it covers. Instead, the Smithsonian shares its inventory lists with tribes, two spokespeople told ProPublica."

About the author

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 40 years. She began at the Navajo Times during the 18 years that she lived on the Navajo Nation. She served as a correspondent for Lakota Times, Associated Press and USA Today. After serving as a longtime staff reporter for Indian Country Today, she began Censored News to show what was being censored. Now a collective, with no ads, grants or salaries, Censored News has 22 million page views. She has a master's degree in international health focused on water, nutrition and infectious diseases.

Copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News

No comments: