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Neo-Colonial Legislation: Non-Natives Control Indigenous Cultural Property and Archaeology

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

Massachusetts House Bill H. 3982 as refiled on 6/4/2021 gives a neoliberal face to genocide by erasure. This bill continues the history of cultural theft and control of Indigenous legacy by non-Natives. This bill also places control of Indigenous archaeoloogy in the hands on unqualified politicians and political appointees.

The 14-member commission would be composed mostly of politicians, all appointed by politicians:

2 senators, 2 representatives, 1 geologist (a state appointee), 9 appointed directly by the governor – one of whom must be an environmental police officer! (lines 8-19)

None of the members of this board are required to be Indigenous, even though Indigenous legacy will be their most important mission and the bulk of their work. The bill says there can be four Indigenous members, but does not require any to be Indigenous. An attached clause allows just about anyone to replace Indigenous descendants as the voice for Indigenous archaeology. These commissioners, part of a 9-person majority, would be appointed arbitrarily on the whims of the Governor:

“four of whom shall be of Native American descent or active (line 20) in efforts to preserve and educate the public about Native American living, meeting, spiritual and (line 21) burial sites and ways of life . . ."

The intentionally vague wording allows anyone the governor and politicians like to substitute for Indigenous people and our voice.

Even if Indigenous people were appointed, which is not required here, maximum Indigenous voice would be less than 1/3 minority on matters primarily concerning the archaeology of Indigenous people.

Enormous conflict of interest is integral to this scheme since all the members have a vested interest in cooperating with the agenda of the governor and state agencies; there’s a converse motivation not to dissent from colleagues and superiors.

Worse yet, the commission will be swayed by dark money and private interests as its funding will partly be “private gifts and donations.” (line 29)

The commission would prevent Indigenous people and the public from obtaining any information about archaeological or historical sites in Massachusetts. Their reports are completely secret.

The commission and its activities are hidden from public view as they have been exempted from open meeting law. This violates the recent Commonwealth policy that pretends to enforce transparency.

They would report only to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, which was pegged as having “the worst policy of all 50 states” on Indigenous sacred stone prayers (Moore and Weiss, 2016, Ohio Journal of Archaeology). The MHC has an overall miserable record, having preserved no Indigenous places of importance separately from Colonial historic sites or incidental to ecological conservation. MHC has repeatedly resisted efforts by Indigenous groups to preserve places of critical ceremonial importance, like Sacred Hill Ceremonial Site in Montague, and Buzzard Bay Ceremonial Site.

Employees of MHC, such as Ellen Berkland, have publicly attacked Indigenous preservationists, referring to a Native American colleague as “the Antichrist” in an official board meeting of Massachusetts Archaeological Society. State employees are already controlling "private" archaeological societies in Massachusetts.

MHC, a major player in this scheme, was completely silent when the 10,000 year old site at Nayyag was slated for destruction.

This same bill was entered in 2014 and met wide criticism for its violations of ethics and laws. At that time both Narragansett and Aquinnah Wampanoag publicly stated their concerns about this bill.

Without notifying either federally recognized tribe, despite their stated concerns, this bill was reintroduced into the state legislature.

Senator Comerford - one of the bill's main proponents - attacked Indigenous preservation supporters, both Native and their allies, when 55,000 people protested the planned demolition of a 10,000-year-old unique Indigenous site recommended for National Register of Historic Places status. Comerford publicly defamed supporters, both local Native descendants and their allies, even when Narragansett, Aquinnah Wampanoag and Mashpee Wampanoag had publicly stated their concerns that the site should be preserved. Even when asked to cease and desist, Comerford and Rep. Sabadosa continue to spread misinformation.

It begs questioning why supposedly “progressive” legislators would so vigorously attack people who are working for equality in historic preservation, restorative justice, and to preserve cultural sites for their community to enjoy.

All these actions violate the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the USA agreed to honor. By trespassing on Articles 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 of the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Comerford, Carey, Sabadosa, Lewis and Domb all violate internationally recognized human rights will they dishonor our nation and our international dignity.

UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples

This document was signed by the USA and all nations of the UN. We agreed to abide by this declaration:

Nowhere in this document is any non-indigenous body given the right to substitute the local Indigneous people with non-natives or out-of-state/distant tribes to identify or determine the disposition of cultural property. Other tribes should be included, yes, but the actual local descendants cannot be excluded.

Article 9 Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right.

Article 10 is about land rights.

Article 11 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature. 2. States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.

Article 12 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains. 2. States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned.

Article 13 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons. 2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.

Article 14 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning. 2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination. A/RES/61/295 6 3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.

Article 15 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information. 2. States shall take effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with the indigenous peoples concerned, to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society.

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1 opmerking

In 2014 when this bill was first introduced, the legislators recommended only 1 Native American be on the committee! Remember, they would work mostly on Indigenous sites.

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