Through Levi Rickert
Opinion. Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide football team could be ranked number one in Division I College Football (SEC-West) ahead of tomorrow’s playoff game against the Cincinnati Bearcats, but if there was a ranking system for repatriation of indigenous remains, the University of Alabama could be ranked at the bottom of the rankings – in any conference. This is because a repatriation struggle between the tribes and the university has been going on for over a decade with much talk, but little action.
In question, approximately 10,000 human remains from seven tribes speaking the Muskogian language which were excavated in what is now an archaeological park, called Moundville. The State of Alabama handed over the management of Moundville Park to the University of Alabama in 1961.
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Located 13 miles south of Tuscaloosa, the university’s website promotes the archaeological park as “one of the country’s premier Native American heritage sites.” Called “The Big Apple of the 14th Century” by National Geographic, Moundville Archaeological Park was once the site of a powerful prehistoric community which, in its heyday, was the largest city in America north of Mexico.
For more than a decade, seven tribes who can trace their presence for hundreds of years to the Southeastern United States, where Moundville served as neutral territory, fought the university in a battle to repatriate the remains of their ancestors. For tribes that include the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Nation, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, the Tribal City of Alabama-Quassarte, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and the Seminole Tribe of Florida , the fight for repatriation has gone on for too long.
“Basically it is to say that the University of Alabama has in its possession thousands of our ancestors from the original Southeastern homeland, the Muscogee Creek People and other tribes as well,” said Jason Salsman, spokesperson for Muscogee Nation. . “This repatriation fight has been going on in our minds for quite a long time. “
Native News Online published an article on the repatriation struggle on December 2, 2021. In the article, senior reporter Jenna Kunze writes, “University of Alabama museums have skeletons in their closets, literally.
Due to a loophole in the Native American Burials Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990, the university characterized the remains as culturally unidentifiable. Under NAGPRA, there is no timeline or requirement for a museum or university to identify the cultural affiliation of the remains in its possession.
Over the years, the university has held consultations with some of the affected tribes. During a visit in 2016, tribal officials observed human remains stored in plastic bags in five-gallon buckets on the ground, in brown paper bags “with burial materials overflowing” and in cardboard boxes “with gaping holes on the sides”.
Incredibly, officials at the University of Alabama have, until recently, argued that the unearthed remains of Moundville had no connection to the tribes who were forced out of the state during the period of withdrawal, known to exist. under the name of Trail of Tears.
Although the university would not admit that the remains were those of the tribes that occupied Moundville, several tribes were invited to an annual fall festival.
While the university has shown a lack of overall cooperation with the tribes, progress is being made as a federal committee overseeing NAGPRA on November 24, 2021 clearly established the cultural connection for the Moundville descendants. In a sense, the committee’s decision forced the university’s next move.
The university responded with a letter to the Seven Tribes from University Executive Vice President James Dalton, who wrote about the university’s role as “official steward … devoting millions to its preservation” and assured tribal members of the university’s commitment to educating audiences about the site, exemplified by the invitation to “dozens of Native American artists, artists, storytellers and other cultural actors” on the campus every year.
Of course, these dozens of Native American performers, artists, storytellers and other cultural bearers cannot supplant the failure of the University of Alabama to do the right thing when it comes to sanctity. repatriation.
The dozens of Native Americans who come to campus to dance and tell stories also don’t excuse the university for its poor record in attracting Native Americans to its students. According to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, as of fall 2021, there were only 137 Native Americans among the university’s more than 38,300 students.
It appears that the University of Alabama is more concerned with conserving the 10,000 or so Aboriginal ancestral remains than it is with the living Native Americans today.
Alabama may be number one in football, but the Crimson Tide is very short when it comes to dealing with Indigenous people – dead and alive.
The tribes told Native News Online that a virtual consultation is scheduled for January 7, 2022 to discuss next steps. We are awaiting an update on the university’s upcoming move.
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