Remains on Native burial sites focus of workshop
Nevada’s Native American community is hoping its traditions and values aren’t overlooked in favor of a more scientific process with the repatriation of objects and remains as a new legislature comes on board in 2019.
The Nevada State Museum held a public workshop Thursday in Carson City that brought together approximately 35 tribe members, museum officials, legislative representatives and other interested community members with several videoconferencing from Las Vegas. The hearing was required to guide the new regulations to amend Chapter 381 of the Nevada Administrative Code.
The museum was made responsible for amending the regulations to the NRS after Sens. Julia Ratti, Nicole Cannizzaro, Aaron Ford and Pete Goicoechea introduced Senate Bill 244 in the 2017 legislative session. The bill provided the impetus to ensure land owners who sought to excavate any known Native American burial site on their property to follow similar laws the federal government does in handling cultural resources for certain projects.
Nevada State Museum Director Myron Freedman, curator of anthropology Gene Hatori and their staff initially helped to draft the language that was then proposed at Thursday’s workshop, where participants adamantly expressed concerns about particular language on each of the draft’s 22 provisions.
Provision 3, in particular, was of interest. In its currently drafted form, the language states if an archaeologist or private landowner were to find human remains or evidence of graves or burials prior to any permitted excavations, they must obtain a permit for excavating on that land as required by Nevada Revised Statute 381.196 and/or 381.197.
Questions about the language arose about the process and ethical implications of discovering remains on known burial sites versus the constitutional rights of private property owners, and Marla McDade Williams expressed concern
“If you recall, a couple of weeks ago, the city of Reno denied two housing projects — clearly private land interests, private property, you know, private developer, but governments do have the ability to make decisions that are in the best interest of its citizens — and in this situation, we believe it’s in the best interests of the state of the Nevada not to go around telling people, ‘Well, you’re exempt from that; go ahead and get out there before we get our remains there,’” McDade Williams of Strategies 360, representing the RSIC, said.
Others at the workshop sought to define, narrow or, in some cases, exclude other language in the draft’s provisions such as “abandoned property” for legal or cultural purposes that would impact tribes’ cultural or funerary traditions.
“I would be opposed to narrowing that definition,” McDade Williams said. “We’re going forward and calling an issue of title without clearing understanding it. I’d be very concerned. It’s understanding the end game and how to enable a tribe to come forward and make a claim.”
Participants also spoke of a greater desire to be more involved in communications concerning tribal issues.
“I think we have to clarify each time we have a meeting, Myron, that because new people come in that haven’t been involved in this process for two or three years or weren’t even part of this process … and we have to update this and that’s an important thing,” Michon Eben of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony said. “That’s why we changed this law because it was so outdated, it was science-based, it was nontraditional, there were no values, beliefs and traditions, and now you have us sitting here, and we want to continue to make sure these two laws are important to us. … They’re involving our ancestral remains and cultural remains that have been looted, excavated and it’s science-based.”
Input was collected from members representing the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, the Bridgeport Indian Reservation, the Washoe Tribe, the Stewart Indian School Museum, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, the Walker River Paiute Tribe, Battle Mountain, Duckwater Shoshone Tribe and agencies including McGinness and Associates, Friends of the Nevada State Museum and more.
Freedman said these regulations, after completing the public input process, originally would have been finished in early 2019, but the state’s Legislative Counsel Bureau didn’t codify the law until after July this year, pushing the museum’s process back. The museum’s staff now expects to hold at least another public meeting or two, based on what was provided Thursday, and will make revisions and determine its next steps afterward.
“It’s always good to get feedback on what we do,” Hatori said after the session. “The good part is that we had a greater attendance than we expected, so we’re really hopeful that the tribes will help us get these regulations in place.”
Copies of the proposal remain available by contacting Anna Camp at the Nevada State Museum, 600 N. Carson St., Carson City 89701, or by calling 775-687-4810, ext. 261 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.