Stone Prayers - MEAS Brings Racial Equity and Human Rights to Archaeology and Historic Preservation
Updated: Jul 9, 2021
Scientific Research into Stone Prayers Confirms Indigenous Origins
Groundbreaking studies on manmade stone features of the Eastern Woodlands, long suspected to be Indigenous spiritual practice, confirm their Indigenous origin. During the 1960s and into the 1980s, several archaeologists in the Midwest and Southeast described Indigenous stone constructions, small in individual scale, but numerous and clustered (as cited in Cachat-Schilling, 2018: https://www.academia.edu/40876479/Assessing_Stone_Relics_in_Western_Massachusetts_Part_II_Patterns_of_Site_Distribution). The same report cites archaeologists who studied similarities in stone groupings of the Southeast, attributed officially to Indigenous people, and stone groupings in the Northeast states like Vermont.
In 2015, Northeast Anthropology published a study of the Nipsachuck, Rhode Island site confirming its Indigenous origin. This was followed by Moore and Weiss' re-evaluation of methods and policy on this subject in 2016 (Journal of Ohio Archaeology, "The Continuing Stone Mound Problem"), along with Cachat-Schilling's report Quantitative Analysis of Stone Features in a Western Massachusetts Town in Bulletin of Massachusetts Archaeological Society, also in 2016. 2018 saw Part II of the study on Shutesbury's Stone Prayers (maunumuetash, Ceremonial Stone Landscapes) published by Archaeological Society of Connecticut. Part III of this study is in preparation. These studies were followed by Dr. Curtiss Hoffman's broad, book-length compliation study of Stone Prayers: Native American Constructions of the Eastern Seaboard, standing on a great body of data painstakingly collected over many years. There is another research tome in the works by a doctoral specialist in Northeast Native American archaeology. James Gage and Mary Gage also published several studies over the years that carefully tested origin hypotheses and found Indigenous correlations for Stone Prayers. In turn, these studies were preceeded by reports from Peter Waksman and others who sought to elucidate origins of Stone Prayers. In 2018, Northeast Anthropology published Eli Luweyok Kikiayunkahke: So Said the Departed Elders, a study of Northeast Algonquian land use practices that explains Stone Prayers and their distribution in terms of ceremonial tradition, tribal narrative tradition specifically detailing spiritual engagement with stone features, and traditional land use patterns.
United Tribes of South and East has a standing declaration on Stone Prayers that assigns their origin to the many Indigenous nations of the east coast as ceremonial practice. This one document serves as sufficient basis for acceptance under the agreed-upon terms of UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Despite all this, Massachusetts Historical Commission has maintained a rogue stance and public statement completely denying any Indigenous stone works exist in the Commonwealth. MHC maintains "the most extreme policy of all 50 states," as Moore and Weiss found in their 2016 study (The Continuing Stone Mound Problem, Journal of Ohio Archaeology).
Massachusetts Ethical Archaeology Society Policy on Stone Prayers Brings Racial Equity and Human Rights
MHC policy and Massachusetts state practices regarding archaeological and historic preservation of Indigenous places fail to comply with UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples and UN Declaration on Universal Human Rights, both of which the USA signed. Since all nations have signed onto both of these declarations of rights, it follows that we should comply. MHC and Massachusetts have chosen not to comply with international rights. Without providing data or debate to support their position, MHC completely denies what all other states in the USA have recognized.
Massachusetts Ethical Archaeology Society Policy on Maunumuetash/Stone Prayers/Ceremonial Stone Landscapes
MEAS complies with UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples by recognizing the right of Indigenous Peoples to describe their own cultures, identify their own cultural legacies, and determine the disposition of their cultural properties. Therefore, MEAS respects and accepts Indigenous interpretations on features of Indigenous legacy as identified by Indigenous persons and entities.
MEAS also recognizes the body of research compiled in the literature of archaeology and historic preservation that cumulatively evidence both the overwhelming correlation of Stone Prayers to regional Indigenous ceremonial practice and the numerous historical references and documents that give reference and definition to many types of Stone Prayers.
MEAS recognizes the right of Indigenous people to identify, interpret and determine the disposition of Indigenous cultural properties, including Stone Prayers. Furthermore, MEAS recognizes that "tribal recognition" is wholly a construct of Colonial hegemony, is part and parcel of genocide processes, and is not a legitimate construct as it does not function to confirm historical nations nor does it function to restore nations that have been fractured and oppressed by gencoide. Rather, "tribal recognition" has been a tool used to erase Indigenous nations by the hundreds across the continent. Therefore, MEAS recognizes the right of all Indigenous people, represented or otherwise, to claim the legacy of their true ancestry, disregarding political constructs that are aimed at erasing nations.
MEAS complies with the spirit and letter of laws, theories and policies on Racial Equity, Human Rights and Inclusion. To that end, MEAS recommends that all Indigenous entities be included in the determination of Indigenous legacy sites of all kinds, regardless of status imposed by Colonial entities upon them.
It is the duty of those who would comply with human rights to discover and communicate with all the potential descendants of makers of Stone Prayers when identifying and determining the disposition of Indigenous legacy. There is no provision in human rights documents for any body to arbitrarily choose what Indigenous people can speak for a legacy; MEAS therefore respects the right of all Indigenous people with applicable descendancy to speak for their legacy.
See our upcoming blog - Who's Who in Massachusetts Indigenous Nations for more details on Indigenous peoples and how to contact them. MEAS recommends that all Stone Prayers be reported to the potential Indigenous descendants inclusively, who can then determine their level of involvement independently.