Are Archeologists Scholars or Thieves?

Archeologists and anthropologists, while well-intentioned in their quest to uncover the age and meaning of things, have often been looked upon by Indian people as gravediggers and cultural thieves.

So the question to many is, are archeologists scholars or thieves?

It’s understandable. Native people have seen the graves of their ancestors dug up and skeletons removed to museums. They’ve had their belongings stolen from them and these, too, have a nasty habit of turning up in museums.

And, if that’s not enough, scholars who are looking to make a name for themselves have too often come up with interpretations about Indian people, their lifeways, and their arts, often based on their own uninformed biases on the issues, that are far different from Indian views on these same issues.

Lillian’s memory of protecting burial sites from graverobbers…

I realize the importance of research, and I certainly use books and pictures of artifacts to learn about my own people and their art.

But I also remember as a young woman, the bones of my great grandmother being returned home from the Smithsonian, along with the remains of about 120 other Indian people … and with hundreds of artifacts that had been stolen. So I definitely question in many cases are archeologists scholars or thieves.

We buried all of the people and the artifacts in a mass grave just outside the village of Wishxam, which is where the people had lived. We had to make a giant tomb out of concrete, and we had to put rebar all around it so that the grave robbers couldn’t break in and steal them again.

I believe that most people are well-intentioned, but I still think it’s important that people ask the question, are archeologists scholars or thieves.