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The Missouri Department of Natural Resources was hoardin' the bones of ancient ancestors. The Sac and Fox Nation wanted 'em back. A lawsuit filed by the tribe against the DNR was expected to start today in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, but we're hearing reports from our sister paper in St. Louis that the parties have reached a settlement.
In previous depositions from the nearly decade-long litigation, Sandra K. Massey, the Sac and Fox historic-preservation officer in Oklahoma, had ominous predictions for those who have kept the dead from their eternal rest.
I don't even have to say I am directly descended from them, because they are our people ... and anything that has been done to them is on your head because you're going to pay for that. It's not going to be in ways that maybe even you understand. It's going to be you and your children, that's how we believe these things, that's what you have desecrated, that's what you have gone into, that's what you're dealing with here.
The DNR in Missouri stored the remains of at least 251 individuals, whose bones were uncovered during the earth-moving of our modern world -- building highways, digging the foundations for new Bass Pro Shops, etc.
Back in 1990, Congress passed the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which allows for tribes to reclaim cultural artifacts from any federally funded governmental agency. Most states' agencies were happy to comply with such requests, but Missouri's just had to be difficult. According to reporting by The Riverfront Times
, former Sac and Fox representative Richard Black
told Missouri DNR attorneys in 2003, "Missouri is a nightmare."
Black told the lawyers that the DNR had stored human remains by stuffing them in plastic bags and rat-poison boxes. When a "hobby group" of totally not-tribal folks from Frankenstein, Missouri (seriously), asked the DNR to spare a few bones for some totally not-tribal burial ceremony, the state agency gave them some, no fuss.
Since the litigation began, Missouri DNR's adherence to NAGPRA has improved. When they run across ancient remains, state workers now know to alert tribal representatives. In the lawsuit that was supposed to commence today, the Sac and Fox Nation was looking for monetary repatriation for past transgressions.
For descendants of native people, the lawsuit's settlement marks one more milestone in a far-from-finished journey toward spiritual peace.
For anyone whose imagination stretches this far, maybe Missouri's desecration of tribal burial grounds did result in plagues of curses. And perhaps now, ours could be lifted? Things oughta start looking up in this 'burg.