Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Smithsonian’s ghoulish hoarding of 20,000 skulls – a letter from Glenn Morris, pt. 2

In response to "Iliff’s grisly display of a “biblical” text wrapped in human skin" here, part 1 of what will be a series, Glenn Morris sent me a moving and horrifying letter with two attachments on the seizing by the Smithsonian of 20,000 skulls. I knew of this zeal for phrenology and craniometry - two grotesque pseudosciences, in this case, "legitimizing" grave robbing by the army and "scientists" (the heritage of racism in what has become modern archaeology and anthropology is bizarre and strong...). But the detail was new to me. Revulsion at American Nazism, er eugenics, comes up pretty fiercely in hearing about this.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), Public Law 101-601, 25 U.S.Code 3001 et seq., 104 Stat. 3048, enacted November 16, 1990, requires the return of these skulls for burial (the Smithsonian may have returned a quarter of them, now after 20 years). Decent people might have done it long before, though I am sure, as at Iliff, some were concerned. But in violation of the law, this governmental institution could not, as of 2011, be bothered to "figure out" what, let alone whose skulls they have. They "had something else to do" (curious that having Nazi-like, illegal practices is not a sufficient motivation for them to move...).


The ghoulishness at Iliff was changed in 1971; the federal government's ghoulishness continues to this moment (even with Obama as President…).


Racism toward Native Americans, in particular, a murderous gut hatred, has been cultivated by the elite since the colonial period. See the fine new books by Billy Stratton, Buried in Shades of Night and Peter Silver, Our Savage Neighbors. The unity of the Revolution against the British including some blacks who fought centrally for the American side and helped, along with poor white abolitionists, bring about gradual emancipation in the North, was also partly directed against Native Americans, as Silver righly suggests. The unity versus the British was admirable; unity of extermination toward the indigenous people of New England was not.


Even Patriot recruitment of indigenous people – Narragansetts, for instance, played a huge role in the First Rhode Island Regiment – was met with depredations against and stealing from other indigenous people (just as dependence on black soldiers – the main dead on both sides at the crucial battle of Yorktown and drivers of gradual emancipation in some states following the Revolution - did not lead to the abolition of slavery in the South. The failure of gradual emancipation in the South startlingly contrasts with all the other independence movements in South and Central America where emancipation, either abrupt (Saint Domingue/Haiti) or gradual in Venezuelas, as in the American Northern States, was accompanied by independence. See my Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence.


The idea of natural "superiority" as a license for bondage goes back to Aristotle. It is the false claim that the privileged are minds (observably false since the defense of privilege requires lying and frequently naked stupidity) and others – barbarians, immigrants, indigenous people, slaves, women, etc. – mere bodies "needing" command. And this is ostensibly due to "nature" (you keep a person in chains all her life – and her ancestors for theirs or murder them, and then wonder that she has trauma; of course, those who do this have something worse than trauma...). Call this view Colonel Blimp tricked up with skull measurements...


What Samuel Morton says about native americans described by Glenn Morris below is what Edward Banfield in the Unheavenly City (1970) says about Irish immigrants (once upon a time) and Blacks in the 1960s. They putatively have "lower class culture" - are violent and like sex - and are “present-oriented.” Banfield, an "important" and odious figure, was an advisor to the violent Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan and a colleague, correspondent of and occasional cooperator with Leo Strauss.


The litany of racists never varies far. IQ testing has been its “highest accomplishemnt,” relegating Jews and other nonwhite - non-"Nordic" - people to feeblemindedness at Ellis Island early in the 20th century (they took tests in English when they did not yet speak English. They were asked the name of the Brooklyn National League baseball team at the time – this important bit of “genetically determined” information is not the Dodgers...


But Carl Brigham, author of A Study of American Intelligence, testified before Congress in 1921, that the Nordics (Scandinavians) who came in the 1890 were brighter, had a capacity for "abstract intelligence" which others supposedly lacked (see Glenn's account of Samuel Morton below). It did not occur to Brigham that they had learned English by the first World War, while the newer immigrants had not (racism kept his eyes determinedly shut to this obvious alternative). This Professor at Princeton who was vital in the passage of the 1924 immigration law 0 one which referred to the preservation of “the pure Nordic stock” of the United States - and for whom the Library at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton is named, was not, himself, an example of Amerian intelligence…

Thinking, let alone, "abstraction," was not what he did.


Still, the quality of the atrocities, in particular, murdering and collecting skulls from indigenous people as part of the long Civil War in the West (the one lasting until 1876, focused on ethnic cleansing) stands out. There is often medical experimentation on Jews in Nazi Germany and Austria (racist doctors, psychologists and sociologists - pseudoscientists - provide there another startling illustration of how tricked-up prejudice can sanction genocide).


In the aftermath of the Cvil War, the American elite feared the sense equality from below – the decency of abolitionism/radical Republicanism – that had won the war against bondage. So the government also promoted skull measurements on blacks, moving toward Jim Crow.


Similarly, in reaction against the Civil Rights movement a hundred years later, Daniel Patrick Monynihan launched the matriralrchal thesis about the black family. Slavery and racism no longer existed in America, he imagined (as Bobby Kennedy once said of him, “Pat has a problem with racism…”). Therefore, the reason that blacks don’t get ahead is: families split up and the boys are raised by…single women. This "explanation" combines racism and sexism in a slightly different form from Samuel Morton’s racist fashion (there are, once again, two or three sociological/psychological/phrenological forms of bigotry touted as "science").


In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson gave a speech at Howard retailing Moynihan's thesis (a complex figure in this regard, Johnson, under sharp pressure from below, did move the Civil Rights Act). His speech was met with widespread protest.


Whenever there are gains made by protest from below, including the case of Native Americans (there were concessions to Red Cloud and the victorious Sioux in the Black Hills which lasted 3 or 4 years...), these pseudoscientific fashions creep up again, often with horrific consequences. What Glenn describes at the Smithsonian - the storing/"cataloguing" of 20,000 skulls - is the most grisly...


Professor James Riding In, a scholar at Arizona State University and a Pawnee, has done pathbreaking work highlighting the US army/Smithsonian's, as he rightly names it, "grave looting" (he also speaks the spiritual holocaust which accompanied ethnic cleansing). If the bodies are desecrated, Pawnees believe, the spirits cannot rest.

Are these "scientists" and the rest of "white" society willing to have their ancestors unearthed and their skulls kept for "measurement"? To ask the question is to highlight, following John Rawls, that the perpetrators were often monsters (it is hard to imagine, the Joint Congressional Commission wrote in its verdict on Sand Creek, that "beings in human form" could have done this...). James Riding In, "Repatriation: a Pawnee's Perspective," Indian Quarterly, vol. 20, no 2, 1996 here.


Hollywood likes to fantasize that aliens from outer space steal skulls, but really they should just look at Professors and Curators at “great” American (and of course English and German…) institutions.


As Brenda Norelle discusses Professor Riding In's work in her reporting below:

"'[Samuel Morton] never questioned the morality of stealing Indian crania from graves,' Riding In said.

Morton paid soldiers, settlers, and others for Indian skulls. With bounty offered, American Indian skulls became sought after in what Riding In describes as a cottage industry.

The United States Army established a program during the 1860s for studying Indian crania. Among those massacred, beheaded and their crania taken, were a group of friendly Cheyenne, Kiowa [sic - the Kiowa were not camped at Sand creek] and Arapaho near Sand Creek, Colo."


Apparently, Governor John Evans's and Chivington's plans for Sand Creek included skull-stealing...


Samuel G. Morton and others deserve to be remembered with Himmler and Goebbels and Torquemada as important figures in genocide.


Having a history of waging wars of ethnic cleansing, the US army now suddenly names everything for Native Americans. Tomahawk missiles projected for use in Syria, Apache helicopters to further the State of Israel’s ethnic cleansing in the Occupied Territories and Operation Geronimo (Geronimo was a courageous fighter against extreme oppression and deception) as a name for taking out the mass murderer Bin Laden provide some striking examples. See here. The army somehow understands that indigenous names mean something – that indigenous fighters had an honor, a boldness of tactics and a straightforwardness in negotiation. The idea that the American government lies is, unfortunately, the fair inference from its breaking of every treaty that it signed across the Continent. And the U.S. army embraces indigenous names even as its officers and publicists have amnesia about how the army itself carried out the ethnic cleansing, cordoning those not murdered off on "reservations" (concentration camps).


The army cut off people’s heads, stole skulls, and parked them in the Smithsonian. For officers and politicians now to insist that the wars America fought in achieving "Manifest Destiny" reflect a peace-oriented and well-meaning army and policy…- now that is Founding Amnesia…


As Brenda Norell aptly writes in the third article below:

“Between 1877 and 1881, the Army Medical Museum collected human skulls of American Blacks, Chinook, Choptank, Dakota, Eskimo of Greenland, Formosans, Hawaiians, Hidatsa, Nisqually, Philippine peoples, Ponca, Potowatomi, Pueblo, Tonkawa, and Ute. 

Today, while the Smithsonian capitalizes on American Indian history and culture in the promotion of its museums, particularly on the romantic aspects of Native American culture, the Smithsonian delays for years the return of American Indian remains.”


And the fight from below to return the skulls of indigenous people may eventually result in the burial of the others. In America, Jews, though then stigmatized, were spared. America's eugenic cousins in Germany, however, remedied this oversight...


After the Civil War, phenology at the Smithsonian swung into high gear. Blacks and indigenous people were stigmatized for Jim Crow (1876 - see Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by another Name) and to license genocide in the West. It is worth taking in this history and for every decent person who wants to live in a civilized society and university or cares at all for democracy, fighting its criminal heritage to the last breath…


‪"Hello, Alan,‬

Thank you for this account. Unfortunately, none of this is new to most of us in the Native community. For several years, Tink Tinker and Loring Abeyta researched and attempted to rectify these crimes. I am sure that they will be sending a comment to your recent post.

Of course, within Colorado AIM, the work of former Denver AIM director Vince Havier, who has since passed on, was well known. These kinds of indignities against indigenous peoples, as you state, were not only common, but were considered a "normal" fate for those of us from an inferior cultural, religious, political and economic order. As you probably know, the Smithsonian Institution admitted two years ago that it continued illegally to possess over 20,000 American Indian skulls, in violation of the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. See here.

A number of the skulls were collected before, and at, Sand Creek, motivated in part by the bounty on skulls for the pseudo-scientific cranial studies that were inspired by Samuel George Morton, often cited as the father of scientific racism. One of Morton's conclusions from his perverse head-snatching/measuring scheme was that:

"In their mental character the [American Indians] are averse to cultivation, and slow in acquiring knowledge; restless, revengeful, and fond of war, and wholly destitute of maritime adventure. They are crafty, sensual, ungrateful, obstinate and unfeeling, and much of their affection for their children may be traced to purely selfish motives. They devour the most disgusting [foods] uncooked and uncleaned, and seem to have no idea beyond providing for the present moment. ... Their mental faculties, from infancy to old age, present a continued childhood. ... [Indians] are not only averse to the restraints of education, but for the most part are incapable of a continued process of reasoning on abstract subjects."

Some Sand Creek connections to the criminality of the "American School" of ethnography/craniometry may be found here. This article cites the important work of James Riding In at Arizona State University. I hope that some of this might be useful to you.

Best regards,


"Smithsonian's racist collection of Indian skulls

The history of the Smithsonian Institution, like the history taught in US classrooms, is largely one of deception and fiction

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
Photo: Trees at Sand Creek massacre. Photo Brenda Norrell.

The Smithsonian's dark history includes the collecting of American Indian brains for a racist experiment which claimed to reveal the relationship between race and intelligence. Brains were collected for bounty. One of the massacres where this sinister collection of brains was carried out was at Sand Creek in Colorado, a brutal massacre where fleeing Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children were murdered in 1864. The following article is republished, so the facts will not be forgotten, with a special thank you to Pawnee professor James Riding In who provided much of the information. After publication of this article, I wrote the Smithsonian and asked if it was true that more than 10,000 Indian skulls remained at the Smithsonian. There was no response. --Brenda Norrell

Smithsonian harbored Ishi's brain
by Brenda Norrell
(March 19, 1999)

The Smithsonian Institution admits, after a probe and nearly a century of secrecy, that it housed the brain of Ishi, a Yahi Indian who walked into Oroville, Calif., in 1911.

But the admission comes only after American Indians demanded a befitting burial and University of California researchers probed the whereabouts of Ishi's remains, that the Smithsonian admits that Ishi's brain was in a warehouse at the National Museum of Natural History.

Pointing to scientific racism, James Riding In, Pawnee professor at Arizona State University, said American Indian skulls at the Smithsonian are part of the U.S. Army's research intended to show that whites were superior based on the size of their skulls.

Riding In said the Smithsonian has been less than forthcoming about the American Indian remains in its possession, as mandated by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Riding In said Smithsonian Institution curators previously acquired 18,500 bodies and most of the skulls were collected by the Army Medical Museum in the 1800s. While most of the crania gather dust at the Smithsonian today, others have been destroyed by carbon 14 dating analysis.

Riding In's research is now included in law seminar course material at Arizona State University, "Symposium on Land, Culture, and Community: Contemporary Issues in CulturalResources Protection."

The research shows that Samuel G. Morton, in the early 1830s, worked in craniology and phrenology, to devise tests on skulls, in relation to intelligence and crania size. He poured mustard seeds into human skulls to determine size and volume in his research.

In the process, Morton assembled a large collection of American Indian skulls.

"He never questioned the morality of stealing Indian crania from graves," Riding In said.

Morton paid soldiers, settlers, and others for Indian skulls. With bounty offered, American Indian skulls became sought after in what Riding In describes as a cottage industry.

The United States Army established a program during the 1860s for studying Indian crania. Among those massacred, beheaded and their crania taken, were a group of friendly Cheyenne, Kiowa and Arapaho near Sand Creek, Colo.

The final chapter in the legacy of Ishi, whose biography became a documentary film, is included in this dark, untold chapter of American history.

Although Ishi made a final request that there be no autoposy, the anthropologists who supposedly befriended him, removed his brain during an autopsy in 1916. The removal and transfer to the Smithsonian were kept secret until recently.

"It was not uncommon to study brains in the early 20th century," said anthropologist Orin Starn, who led the Smithsonian to admit the location of Ishi's brain. "Some people thought that different races had different brain sizes."

Starn said Ishi was "really was a victim of a holocaust."

The investigation was spearheaded by Nancy Rockafeller, a research historian at the University of California in San Francisco in the History of Health Science Department, and Starn, a Duke University anthropologist.

Rockafeller said that before his death in 1916 from tuberculosis, two persons appeared to befriend Ishi, anthropologist Thomas Waterman and museum curator Alfred Kroeber. Rockafeller determined that after the autopsy, Kroeber sent Ishi's brain to the Smithsonian for study in 1917.

Native Americans in California plan to carry out a proper burial at Ishi's homeland at Mount Lassen. (A proper burial of Ishi did follow.)

Additional reference to the US collection of American Indian skulls: "In 1862, during the Civil War, the Surgeon General established the United States Army Medical Museum (AMM; now the National Museum of Health and Medicine of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)."

Photographs of American Indian skulls at this museum: "Tribes or races represented are Apache, Arapaho, Arikara, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Comanche, Dakota, Eskimo, Hawaiian, Negro, Paiute, Ponca, San Miguel and San Nicholas islands (California), White, and Wichita." Read more here.


Smithsonian's morbid collection of Indian skulls
Posted by Brenda Norrell - June 14, 2011

Smithsonian continues racism and morbid disrespect harboring Indian remains in violation of federal law

WASHINGTON -- The United States now admits that the Smithsonian Institution's process will take decades to return 20,000 human remains to American Indian Nations and comply with the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. 

The US Government Accounting Office reports that the Smithsonian's repatriation of thousands of Native American human remains and funerary objects "may take several more decades" under the current system.

The delay in complying with federal law continues a pattern of sinister racism, secrecy and morbid dishonor at the Smithsonian. 

The Smithsonian has tried to avoid publicity of its collection of skulls in a racist experiment aimed at determining skull size in relation to intelligence. The payment of bounty for Indian skulls for the Smithsonian led to the Massacre at Sand Creek in Colorado and the slaughter of Cheyenne Arapaho women and children, and massacres and murders elsewhere by Army Scouts.

The Smithsonian has not been forthright in admitting the truth about its collection of Indian remains. It was a researcher who discovered the remains of Ishi, known as the last of the Yahi, at the Smithsonian. Initially the Smithsonian refused to return his skull for reburial in California and only did so following adverse national publicity.

 The Smithsonian is not the only US museum that harbored large collections of Native American skulls. The United States Army Medical Museum posted online a list of collections of American Indian skulls transferred to the Smithsonian.

 The morbid lists of skulls include this statement by the US Army Medical Musuem (AMM): "Tribes or races represented are Apache, Arapaho, Arikara, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Comanche, Dakota, Eskimo, Hawaiian, Negro, Paiute, Ponca, San Miguel and San Nicholas islands (California), White, and Wichita." See here.

The two US museums were involved in exchanges and deals. 

The Smithsonian states, "The anatomical collection grew as the result of the Surgeon General's Circular No. 2 of 1867. It called on military medical officers to collect crania together with specimens of Indian weapons, dress, implements, diet, and medicines. Other specimens came from arrangements with the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian agreed to transfer its collection of human remains, including future acquisitions, to the AMM. In return, the AMM agreed give the Smithsonian artifacts that came into its possession."

The Smithsonian admits Indian remains were obtained by executions. However, the Smithsonian uses the word "battles." instead of the more accurate word "massacres," referring to the Massacre at Sand Creek and others.

 "In May, 1898, the AMM transferred 2,206 skulls to the Smithsonian. Some specimens were obtained after battles or executions and such data is noted," the Smithsonian states in this report.

Between 1877 and 1881, the Army Medical Museum collected human skulls of American Blacks, Chinook, Choptank, Dakota, Eskimo of Greenland, Formosans, Hawaiians, Hidatsa, Nisqually, Philippine peoples, Ponca, Potowatomi, Pueblo, Tonkawa, and Ute.

Today, while the Smithsonian capitalizes on American Indian history and culture in the promotion of its museums, particularly on the romantic aspects of Native American culture, the Smithsonian delays for years the return pf American Indian remains.

The press statement below reveals that the Smithsonian views this is a "workload" issue, rather the return of ancestors to their families and communities for reburial, in accordance with federal law.

Here is the statement of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers regarding the long delays in the Smithsonian returning human remains:

GAO Finds that Smithsonian Institution May Still Take Several More Decades to Repatriate Native American Remains and Objects

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2011 -- The Smithsonian Institution's process to repatriate thousands of Native American human remains and funerary objects in its collections is lengthy and resource intensive and it may take several more decades to return items to tribes under its current system, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

 This GAO report is the second of a two-part, three-year effort to examine how publicly funded institutions are complying with the two federal laws that direct repatriation to Native Americans. Last year the GAO examined the repatriation work of eight key Federal agencies and the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). 

According to the GAO report, Smithsonian Institution: Much Work Still Needed to Identify and Repatriate Indian Human Remains and Objects, examiners suggested that Congress should consider ways to expedite the repatriation process and that the Board of Regents considers four administrative changes.

In 1989, Congress passed a law that created a repatriation process for the Smithsonian Institution; two of the institution's 19 galleries and museums hold important collections of Native American human remains and sacred objects. The law also created the National Museum of the American Indian. Though not certain of the exact number, the Smithsonian states it has about 20,000 catalog records of Native American human remains plus many more catalog records of cultural objects held at the National Museum of Natural History and the American Indian museum. Only a quarter of these have been repatriated to the rightful Native Indian owners, according to the GAO report released in May. 

In addition to not regularly reporting to Congress, federal auditors said the repatriation process is lengthy and resource intensive. Both museums use a two-step repatriation process that starts with a printout from an electronic catalogue system that lists human remains and cultural objects that is sent to the tribe. The Indian tribe is then required to file a claim to either museum indicating their interest. Only then does the museum begin a lengthy process of using the "best available information" to build a case report that may or may not recommend repatriation. This process requires an Indian tribe to review thousands of electronic records, which, many times do not contain all relevant information.

When the Smithsonian did repatriate remains and objects, the GAO discovered it took a median of nearly three years for an item to be returned by the Natural History museum and a median of 1.5 years at the American Indian museum. One tribe waited more than 18 years.

 "The GAO has confirmed twice now that the two federal laws enacted for the benefit of Native American lineal descendants and communities are not working. The amount of work that needs to be done by Indian country is overwhelming, whether at the Smithsonian or at a federal agency repository," said Reno Keoni Franklin, chairman of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO). "Unless changes are made, the burden has been shifted to the Indian tribes and most simply do not have the resources to conduct this important work."

NATHPO supports the GAO's recommendations that Congress seek to expedite the Smithsonian's repatriation process and that the Board of Regent's take actions to expand the oversight and reporting role of the Smithsonian's Repatriation Committee, establish an administrative appeals process, and develop a policy for the disposition of culturally unidentifiable remains and cultural items.

In addition, NATHPO calls for Congress to ensure that the Smithsonian will:

1.Improve the records management for both the Natural History and American Indian museums so that both museums have an accurate count of Native American remains and cultural objects in their collections (The GAO report stated that the Smithsonian cannot provide a reliable estimate of the number of funerary objects in its collection);

2.Promulgate regulations on the Review Committee, as required by Pub. L. 101-185, to further define and clarify the advisory committee's responsibilities and to seek public comment and conduct tribal consultation;

3.Implement a single and consistent Smithsonian-wide repatriation process, rather than allowing for two different repatriation approaches and processes;

4.Fully engage Indian country in the repatriation process using all available Smithsonian resources, rather than looking at the remaining repatriation work merely as a workload issue;

5.Ensure greater openness and transparency on such basic issues as to publicly post the National Museum of the American Indian's board of trustees and repatriation committee members and to publish public notices prior to the repatriation of Native American human remains and funerary objects.

NATHPO also calls on Congress to request a GAO examination of the repatriation work being conducted by the approximately 450 museums that hold over 110,000 Native Americans.

Last year, the GAO audited eight key agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service, and issued NAGPRA: After Almost 20 Years, Key Federal Agencies Still Have Not Fully Complied with the Act. In 2008, NATHPO, in partnership with the Makah Tribe, conducted an independent audit of NAGPRA, which led to the 2010 GAO report. The GAO began its work on NAGPRA in 2009 based on a joint request by then Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV). The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will conduct a hearing June 16 on the policy goals of NAGPRA and the Smithsonian.

The GAO Smithsonian report (GAO-11-515) and the GAO Key Federal Agencies report (GAO-10-768) may be found on the NATHPO website and at www.gao.gov.

To read the Makah-NATHPO NAGPRA report and for more information about NATHPO, go to www.nathpo.org.

Special thanks to Pawnee professor James Riding in, at Arizona State University, who provided the initial information for the news report on Smithsonian's collection of skulls for the research on skulls and intelligence.

1 comment:

digital marketer said...

I see your blog regularly. Your blog is very useful for us.
Are you looking for the services of a reliable pest control company in South London that is local to you? Do you require pest control that is affordable yet is provided by a close-knit team of experienced and qualified professionals?
If you are screaming out “pest control south london” you’ve come to the most elite pest control south london.... Click here

Post a Comment