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Leaf Home arrow Heritage arrow Heritage2 arrow Abenaki Responds to repatriation issue
Abenaki Responds to repatriation issue
Written by webmaster   
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

In response to the repatriation issue at UMass/Amherst and Five Colleges:

 We are deeply concerned about a claim that three Native tribes (STOCKBRIDGE MOHICAN, NARRAGANSET, & AQUINNAH) are making to SOKWAKI/ABENAKI & NIPMUC/CENTRAL CONNECTICUT RIVER ancestral remains, grave goods, and artifacts that are in the NAGPRA process at the FIVE COLLEGES including UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS/AMHERST in the central Connecticut River Valley.  

            Despite being asked repeatedly to collaborate with the ABENAKI NATION, NIPMUC TRIBES, and MASHPEE WAMPANOAG in a coalition to work on this important repatriation together, these three groups have decided to attempt to exclude the descendants of these Old Ones and require the NAGPRA COMMITTEE to tell UMASS/ AMHERST and the FIVE COLLEGES to only deal with them.

Donna Roberts Moody has written the enclosed response to INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY about this situation on behalf of the ABENAKI NATION coalition she represents :

" Because of some strong statements in my letter, I am clear to state that I am only speaking for myself in this letter, and not the Abenaki Nation Repatriation and Site Protection Coalition. "

" Donna Roberts Moody                             June 26, 2009
    This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it             

In response to the repatriation issue at UMass/Amherst and Five Colleges:

     For the past 15 years I have worked in repatriation.  During the first 10 years, I was the repatriation coordinator for all of the groups of Abenaki people and also represented major families not connected to specific groups.  For the past 5 years I have continued in that role, representing families and Abenaki groups with the exception of the Abenaki of Missisquoi who chose to leave the coalition.

     The people who work in repatriation are chosen by others, and I believe those others are guided in their choice by their ancestors.  There have been many times in which I have felt honored to be in this work, and many times when I’ve thought, “Why me?”  Repatriation is a difficult task on many levels.  I always seek input from tribal leaders and Elders when publicly addressing issues.  However, this letter is solely my responsibility, is presented in an unofficial capacity, and does not reflect, nor have I sought, the opinions of anyone else in the Abenaki Nation.

     I am deeply saddened by the conflict that has been created surrounding the collection of ancestral remains, grave goods, and items of cultural patrimony that UMass/Amherst and Five Colleges is preparing for repatriation.  While there is very little in this collection that belongs to the Abenaki Nation I, along with repatriation officers of the Nipmuc and Wampanoag Tribes, have worked in collaboration with the Repatriation Committee of UMass and Five Colleges since the remains were discovered.

     The coalition of tribal representatives have met a number of times to provide advice and guidance to the Repatriation Committee based on provenience of the burials and artifacts, the historical records, and the WELL KNOWN traditional tribal homelands from which those items were removed.  The repatriation officer of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Aquinnah was, at that time, the only representative of a federally recognized tribe who attended the meetings. (Mashpee since having obtained federal recognition).  Also attending the meetings were representatives from the Mass. Comm. of Indian Affairs.  The repatriation officer of the Stockbridge Mohicans was asked, at the onset of these meetings, to attend.  The response at that time and since was, and remains, “The Stockbridge Mohicans refuse to work with any non-federally recognized tribes and will not attend these meetings.”

     The coalition of tribal representatives, IN CONSENSUS, had deep concerns about, and counter-claims to, the repatriation from the Springfield Science Museum to the Mohican Tribe as did local Indian residents of the CT River Valley. The repatriation officer from Aquinnah at that time suggested that the Gay Head Wampanoag Tribe request repatriation of the entire UMass/Five Colleges collection as a REPRESENTATIVE for the non-federally recognized tribes in the coalition and that once the repatriation was completed the remains, grave goods, and objects of cultural patrimony affiliated with each of the non-federally recognized tribes would be turned over to those tribes.  There was a further consensus among the non-federally recognized tribes that presenting to NAGPRA as a coalition (with Aquinnah’s support) was determined to be the preferred route for all involved.  What has happened to change the policy toward this coalition by the Gay Head Wampanoag, who in meeting acknowledged the known tribal territories and affiliations of the Nipmuc and Abenaki Peoples to these remains?

     In the teachings I have received as a TRADITIONAL person I have learned many things in relationship to repatriation.  I will never “fight” over the bones of the Ancestors.  It does not honor me or my ancestors.  I will never knowingly reinter the remains of another tribe’s Ancestor.  I have no knowledge of that tribes customs and it is not my place.  

     I am confused by the conflict that has been created by three federally recognized tribes.  Do these people really believe that Sokoki remains are Mohican or Narragansett or Wampanoag?  I truly don’t believe that.  Sokoki is Abenaki and that is a fact that has never been disputed until this claim.  Do these people somehow believe that because they are federally recognized tribes they have special consideration from Creator, or that they are better loved by Creator, or that their Ancestral remains are more important than those of non-federally recognized tribes?  Maybe.  And if so, they have successfully been assimilated into the White world.  Perhaps a review of the map by Trigger in Vol. 15, pg.ix, of the Handbook of North American Indians should be considered.

     I am also confused as to the motivation of these three tribes in claiming ownership of the entire Five Colleges collection.  I would like to believe that they are truly misled by ignorance of tribal history but I know that not to be true.  If I were a suspicious person, following some deep critical thinking, I might conclude that this is the first step in a claim to assume ownership of the traditional homelands of non-federally recognized tribes.  Well, we’ve been in that place before.

     I do know that to place oneself between the Old Ones and their grave is an act of severe physical and spiritual danger.  I also feel sorry for those who are incapable of rejoicing at the opportunity to have the physical remains of any people returned to the Mother’s arms due to perceived political gain or a perception of power.  You shame your People and your Ancestors.

                                                                                                      Donna Roberts Moody" 

 We are asking that all Abenaki people help us to present a unified voice to calmly and carefully deal with this difficult situation, and to move the pending repatriation of these Old Ones along.   Because of some strong statements in my letter, I am clear to state that I am only speaking for myself in this letter, and not the Abenaki Nation Repatriation and Site Protection Coalition.  We are asking all Abenaki people to let us know what you would like to do about this difficult situation.  The NAPGRA Committee will convene in the fall with this issue on their agenda.  

                Wli Nanawalmezi,

                 Donna Roberts Moody,
                 This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

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