Necessary Consultations Came For Appearances After the Fact
BY LARRY LAHREN, Ph.D.
It is not their intrinsic value as evidence that makes these bones newsworthy; rather the spin applied in disclosing that evidence.
—Roger Downey, Riddle of the Bones: Politics, Science, Race, and the Story of Kennewick Man
In May, 1968, Ben Hargis was removing fill material with a small, front-end loader on the Melyn and Helen Anzick property, about a mile south of Wilsall, Montana. When he noticed an obvious prehistoric stone tool that had fallen out of the material, Ben found what turned out to be the most significant Paleoindian site in North America. Along the edge of a prominent outcrop, where Flathead Creek and the Shields River join, Ben found the burial of a 1 to 2 year-old male child, with over 100 red ochre covered tools.
Ben’s find represents the earliest evidence of religion in the Western Hemisphere. It is the oldest, most complete, assemblage of funerary items and human skeletal remains left by what is known as the Clovis culture, named after the place where the first archaeological evidence for these people was documented, near Clovis, New Mexico, radiocarbon dated to about 11,000 years ago.
In the same general area as the Anzick site, near Wilsall, Mont., but not with the Clovis child, Ben made a surface find of the partial remains of a 7 to 8 year-old child who lived here about 8,600 years ago. For thirty-two years the children’s bones were in the possession of a former site investigator. For the past fourteen years, they have been in the possession of the Anzick family.
Because of the way the Anzick was found, the site was immediately questioned and one archaeologist considered the site, “…an exercise in frustration…and enough to make strong men weep.”
My view, however, has not changed since the spring day in 1968 when I saw the burial artifacts and skeletal remains at Geoff Skillman’s house in Wilsall. Since that time, my role has been to ensure that this important archaeological and religious site receives the treatment it deserves.
For the past 46 years, the Anzick site has seen a pattern of interloping, opportunism, “ownership” and aggrandizing by various institutions and individuals—what I call Clovis Carpetbaggers.
The following discussion describes the actual events surroun-ding the recent genetic testing of the Clovis child. It concludes by asking a Machiavellian question: Was the duplicity utilized to give the false appearance of professional accountability justifiable?
The Genetic Study
Recent media releases about the Clovis child genetic research give the impression that the international research team led by Professor Eske Willersev, Director of the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copehagen, Denmark, followed legal and ethical guidelines. But did this really happen?
Over a year ago, I was advised that the genetic studies of the Clovis child had been completed. I was asked by the assumed project leader, Professor Eske Willersev, to be a co-author of the article that appeared in Nature on February 13, 2014. I was also asked if I could arrange for Native consultation in Montana, to “grease the wheels” and “give the project my blessing.” I declined these offers and suggested contacting the State Archaeologist and Tribal representatives.
Furthermore, I was aware that two of the article’s co-authors were members of Friends of America’s Past—a group with an adversarial relationship with Plateau Tribes in the Kennewick Man litigation (as five tribes from the Upper Columbia Plateau asserted ancestry with one of the oldest skeletons found in North America. In addition, the co-authors were involved in the political sabotaging of HB165, which became the Montana Repatriation Act in 2001. When I advised the researchers about the repercussions of not having Montana State and Tribal consultation prior to the Anzick studies, one co-author remarked, “What are they going to do… ban me from Montana?”
The Montana Repatriation Act
House Bill 165, the Montana Repatriation Act, was introduced to the Montana legislature in 2001 by Gutsche, Juneau, et.al. It was created at the request of the Law, Justice, and Indian Affairs Committee. A legal opinion by Eddye McClure, Staff Attorney of the Legal Services Division for the Montana Burial Preservation Board determined:
“…both common law and legal decisions have consistently recognized that human skeletal remains are not property abandoned when interred. Discoverers, therefore, have no right of ownership, and they cannot confer a right of ownership to another. Neither a private nor public person, other than a descendant or culturally affiliated group, can legally claim ownership of human skeletal remains or funerary objects.”
Thus, both the funerary items and the human skeletal remains from the Anzick site were included in the original act. However, when the political dust settled, the funerary items were excluded from the Act per the following language:
“An Act Establishing the Montana Repatriation Act; Providing a Mechanism for the return of human skeletal remains or funerary objects taken from burial sites prior to July 1, 1991, to a tribal group, next of kin, or descendant able to establish cultural affiliation: exempting lithic material and other artifacts [including funerary] of nonhuman derivation removed from the Anzick site on or before July 1, 1991, from the provisions of this Act.”
But the human skeletal remains were not exempted and sponsor Gail Gutsche concluded:
“I would have liked the Anzick Collection kept in [the Act], but the human remains still are. HB 165 fills in the gaps the current law has. Now we have ongoing protection.”
Although compromised, the Montana Repatriation Act provides the intent, standing, and an avenue for the return of the Clovis skeletal remains. However, no one could make a claim because the location of the skeletal remains was unknown. No attempt was made to make their whereabouts known. At that time, the State Archaeologist and the Burial Board should have been contacted.
Up the Creek Without Native Consultation
“Accountability: Respon-sible archaeological research, including all levels of professional activity, requires an acknowledgment of public accountability and a commitment to make every reasonable effort, in good faith, to consult actively with affected group(s), with the goal of establishing a working relationship that can be beneficial to all parties involved.”
—Society for American Archaeology, Principle Number 2
At a pre-publication meeting on September 21, 2013, Professor Willersev had a problem. Since the Clovis child studies were already done, how could he show he had been, “…accountable for consulting with affected group(s) to establish a working relationship,” before release of the Nature article? I reiterated to Willersev McClure’s findings (about ownership of human skeletal remains and funerary objects) and the Montana Repatriation Act. But a co-author and member of Friends of America’s Past insisted that the skeletal remains were “in the control” of the Anzick family because no Tribal claim had been made.
Shane Doyle, Crow Patriot
Obviously, the after-the-fact introduction of a Native American to the project would not qualify as “consultation and approval.” But, to reduce Professor Willersev’s obvious angst at this time, I invited Shane Doyle to visit the site on September 22, 2013.
Shane is an enrolled Crow tribal member and adjunct professor in Native American studies at Montana State University. The original intent of the visit was as a student field trip that included Shane’s uncle and Tim McCleary, a teacher with his students from Crow Agency.
Shane had no knowledge of the Anzick child studies or the politics involved with the Montana Repatriation Act. Since I didn’t have the opportunity to advise Shane prior to his visit, I made it clear to Professor Willersev that Shane would be in the role of an independent consultant—not representing the Tribes, the University or any other entity. Thus, to protect him from becoming a potential scape-goat, I told Professor Willersev not to inquire about repatriation.
At the site, I explained the burial context to Shane. Professor Willersev then stated that the Clovis child shared the same genetics as contemporary Native Americans in North and South America. When Professor Willersev asked what he thought should be done, Shane’s response was, “Speaking from the heart, I think you should put him back now.”
Thus, Shane, by his own volition, rose to the occasion to be an inter-tribal, but unofficial, liaison to present the repatriation idea to the Montana Tribes. As Shane notes, “From that point forward I decided to see this through until the sun sets on that day and we put him back.”
After a whirlwind tour to the Montana Tribal reservations, the Northern Cheyenne, the Salish-Kootenai, and the Blackfeet all asked the Crow to take the lead with the reburial. Since the Crow could not agree about taking the skeletal remains back, Shane began working with Roberta Fitch, Crow representative regarding the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (1990), to repatriate the skeletal remains. The repatriation is now scheduled for June of this year with Crow tribal member Larson Medicine Horse overseeing the ceremony.
There is still some question about the repatriation of the grave goods (funerary items), and the use of “replicas” has been suggested. According to Shane, the 7 to 8 year-old child that represents another 8,600 year old burial in the site area, will be repatriated at the same time.
Without mentioning the Montana Repatriation Act, the Legal and Ethical section of the February 13, 2014 issue of Nature gives the appearance that Native American and State government consultation procedures were followed prior to the Anzick child studies. The article reads, for example:
1. “…we have striven not only to comply with federal and state law,” team leader Prof. Willerslev was quoted as saying, “but also to proactively consult with Native American tribes.” [after September 22, 2013].
2. “… Advice provided to the project by members of the Montana Burial Board…” [this involves a violation of Montana open meeting law known as ex parte communications].
3. “…tribal consultation involved “informing nine Native American groups with reservations in the surrounding area of the Anzick site.” [after September 22, 2013].
In addition to these false statements, others were made in an NPR interview on Feb. 12, 2014, wherein the interviewer stated:
“ …the researchers said that once they discovered the link between the boy and today’s Native Americans, they sought out American Indian groups to discuss the results.” [over a year after the results were known and not before September 22, 2013].
Another NPR interview on February 13, 2014, repeated the erroneous impression that Tribal consultation began before the study was started:
“…in the case of the Clovis child,” the interviewer said, “the archaeologists worked closely with modern tribes to make sure the scientists were treating the remains appropriately.” [Again, after the studies were completed and not before September 22, 2013].
The exact situation I tried to protect Shane from, and the most egregious example of duplicity and spin, appears in Rex Dalton’s article in the February 20, 2014, issue of Spiegel Online:
“…Shane Doyle of the Crow Nation,” Dalton wrote, “gave permission for the DNA analysis of the 12,600 year old bones.”
Let’s Make a Deal
Due to fears of repatriation during the creation of the Montana Repatriation Act in 2001, 75 percent of the funerary items, which were on loan, were removed from the Montana Historical Society. (The first artifact from the site was found by Bill Roy Bray of Wilsall, Montana in 1961. The artifacts found by Ben Hargis were split into three portions, 50 percent having gone to the Anzicks, 25 percent to Ben Hargis, and 25 percent to Calvin Sarver, who was present with Ben Hargis when the site and materials were discovered.)
Arnold Olsen, then Director of the Montana Historical Society, in 2001, told the Missoula Independent that, “… two of the three landowners have removed their share of the artifacts—minus the bones—which are reportedly stored in another locale. It is not known whether the artifacts [funerary items] being held hostage in the HB165 debate will be returned to state custody.”
In February 2014, just prior to the news release about the genetic findings, the Anzick portion (50 percent) of the funerary items were returned to the Montana Historical Society—on loan until July 1, 2014. The Message
When, last month, I again observed the clinical display of the funerary items at the Montana Historical Society, I got the same overwhelming, humble, naive feelings I had when I saw them in 1968. The same questions went through my mind—What does this child burial mean? Who does it belong to? What should be done?
I thought about what Shane Doyle’s uncle asked— “If you had to send a message 12,500 years into the future, what would it be?”
I also wondered what message has been sent over the past 46 years—to the people who buried their children, to the people who are genetically related to them, to the general public, and to the next generation of archaeologists?
Do colonial attitudes and the “need to know” override ethics, law, and respect for Native American values in the 21st century?
Perhaps the biggest questions are: Do the ends justify the means, and, will Native Americans ever trust the people that “study” them?
Larry Lahren, is a Livingston-based archaeologist who has been involved with the Anzick site since 1968. He is the author of “Homeland: An Archaeologist’s View of Yellowstone Country’s Past”.
Note: The Anzick site funerary items (but not skeletal remains) are on display at the Montana Historical Society, Helena, Mont.