Areas of Contemporary Cultural and Religious Use
Current federal legislation, including NAGPRA, makes provisions for the protection of cemeteries and locations currently used by Native Americans. It is therefore the position of the Sac and Fox Nation that all cemeteries and ceremonial areas, including individual homesites, are sacred and worthy of the protection of the full extent of tribal, state, and federal laws. We intend to preserve the sanctity of all ceremonies, ceremonial areas, religious objects, and individual homes of our citizens living within the territory of the Sac and Fox Nation. We also declare that all cemeteries and ceremonial areas are off-limits to any kind of excavation or research without the expressed written permission of the appropriate officials of the Sac and Fox Nation or its designated representatives. We also request that a full inventory of the cemeteries, ceremonial areas, and sacred places be conducted and that these areas should be protected from desecration under the full extent of the laws of the Sac and Fox Nation. Protection of the cemeteries and ceremonial areas should be formalized and recognized by the duly constituted government of the Sac and Fox Nation.
Historic Cemeteries and Cultural Resources
It is the policy of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma that all human remains and known funerary objects determined to be of Sac and Fox origin be returned to the earth at, or as near as possible to, the place where they were originally buried. It is our understanding that, in most cases, the institutions or agencies holding these remains were also responsible for violating the sanctity of the cemeteries where the human remains and funerary objects were located. It is also our understanding that these violations occurred without the written or spoken consent of the relatives or descendants of the people whose graves were desecrated. These violations also occurred without the written or spoken consent of the recognized religious and spiritual leaders of the Sac and Fox people. Further, the state or federal institution holding these ancestors and funerary objects should therefore be held responsible for all costs of reinterment of the ancestral remains and associated funerary objects. It is our position that Sac and Fox ceremonial obligations were fulfilled when our ancestors were buried along with the objects necessary for their journey to the afterlife. We did not disturb that journey and it was interrupted by forces and events beyond our control. Now that federal laws protect these ancestors, their resting places, and the objects necessary for their afterlife, we believe that reinterment and maintenance of the burial grounds is the responsibility of the agencies and institutions who caused the desecration of the graves. It is also our policy that no museum, education institution, or government agency should display, or cause to be displayed, any human burial or funerary object of known Sac and Fox origin.
We as native people do not recognize the classification “prehistoric”. Human remains older than the first recorded documentation of a native people by the Europeans are deemed “prehistoric”, thus, this determination is based on a European standard. If the land is acknowledged as ours then any discovery from it is ours as well, especially if the discovery predates the European standard. Our policy as native people is that the unidentified human remains need to be reburied regardless of what tribal affiliation they may have been. All tribes are the living grandchildren of the old ones who were buried before recorded time. The very fact that they were buried should signify the original intent that these old ones were meant to rest in the earth.
As to the subject of funerary objects of unknown origin, it is clear that if they are of “unknown origin”, the descendants and relatives of the people with whom these objects were buried did not give their consent for the disturbance of their resting place. It is also clear that no consent was given for the display of these objects or their use as objects of scientific study. Since no consent was given for their acquisition, and no consent was given for their display or study, we feel that funerary objects of unknown origin should be reburied at or near the place from which they were acquired. If their original location is unknown, then the agency or institution holding such objects should work with Indian nations and the federal government to find a location where these items can be reinterred.
The final category of objects recognized as having protection under NAGPRA is sacred objects and items of cultural patrimony. It is the general policy of the Sac and Fox Nation that ceremonial and religious objects should be returned to the tribe, clan, or family of origin. The only exception to this policy shall be those items for which undisputed written permission can be produced by the agency or institution holding the object. We realize that there are some objects which were purchased from or given by members of the Sac and Fox Nation in the past. However, in many cases, the person or persons who sold or gave away the object was a caretaker and not an “owner” of the item. Examples would be a sacred bundle or drum which an individual might possess on behalf of the clan or tribe but over which they do not exercise individual ownership. It is furthermore declared that the burden of proof of ownership of any sacred object or item of cultural patrimony shall be on the holding institution and not on the Sac and Fox people. In other words, if an object is determined to be of Sac and Fox origin, it is up to the Sac and Fox to determine its disposition until and unless the holding institution can offer undisputed evidence that they hold the ownership of the item. We also declare that we are willing to work with any and all educational institutions and museums to determine the ultimate disposition of objects of cultural patrimony.
Sac and Fox Nation NAGPRA
On November 16, 1990, President George Bush signed into law the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Under NAGPRA, 1) agencies and museums that receive federal funding must inventory all Native American human remains and artifacts in their collections, and where known, notify the tribe of origin, and, at the tribe’s request, return the items; 2) human remains or cultural items found on tribal or federal land are owned or controlled by the Indian tribes alone; 3) trafficking of Native American human remains and artifacts obtained in violation of the Act is prohibited; and 4) all federal agencies or private museums which receive federal funds are required to compile a summary of unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony in their collection, to be returned to the tribe who can prove cultural affiliation, prior ownership or control, and evidence that the museum did not acquire the item with the legal consent of the owner.
On August 28, 1993, the Sac and Fox Nation Governing Council directed the Business Committee to gather information from tribal elders and clan chiefs concerning tribal customs and traditions and created the Repatriation Committee with 15 members. In August 1994 Governing Council under Public Law SF/GC 96-01 created and funded the Repatriation Department and limited membership on the Repatriation Committee to seven.
The NAGPRA office also implements the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and other related laws pertaining to the protection of our historic and sacred sites.
Sac and Fox NAGPRA Confederacy. The Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma, the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, and the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas established the Sac and Fox NAGPRA Confederacy (SFNC) in January 1999. The NAGPRA Confederacy allows the three individual tribal governments who have shared cultural history to present a united front to the museums and agencies regarding NAGPRA affairs. In addition, the regular contact between all three Sac and Fox NAGPRA departments assures that any information provided to one will be provided to all three. The Sac and Fox NAGPRA Confederacy created a Policy Statement, Mission Statement, Reburial Guidelines, and Bundle Guidelines for distribution to all museum and agency contacts. Each Sac and Fox NAGPRA Department hosts a meeting of the SFNC during the year.