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Native American Burial Grounds and Controversy: Artifacts, Pipelines and the Economy

Updated on November 27, 2017
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

A descendant of Mohawk Nation and trained in anthropology, Patty has researched and reported on indigenous peoples for over four decades.

Have Indian burial grounds cursed the American economy?
Have Indian burial grounds cursed the American economy? | Source

Parodies and Conspiracy Theory

The Onion News Network, an entertaining Mad Magazine type of parody of American TV news magazines, broadcast an interesting show in late 2013. Their contention was that the US economy failed, because the entire country was built upon Native American burial grounds.

Native American burial mounds and other native burying places are blamed for much that is negative in the USA. We hear frequently about hauntings and curses caused by houses and businesses built on top of native burial grounds.

Sinkholes and missing persons are sometimes blamed on these numerous burial place.So many unmarked graves of American Civil War casualties, slaves, and Native Americans exist in North Carolina, that the state funded a large project to trace and mark them all. "Indian" mascots have become a hot button discussion topic. Problems in completing petroleum pipelines are also connected to Indigenous nations by American news media, even though The Onion is a parody.

Native North American artifacts in private collections are being returned to First Nations and Native Americans more quickly in the 2010s than in any years previously since the Indian Removals ended and since Indian Reparations began in the 20th Century. Our 33 separate Indigenous nations of code talkers in World Wars I and II were finally all recognized in 2013.

Navajo Code Talkers, included in 33 different tribes (including Kentucky Shawnee) that sent soldiers to help the Allies in WWI and WWII. Most of the soldiers had been recognized by the federal government by late 2013.
Navajo Code Talkers, included in 33 different tribes (including Kentucky Shawnee) that sent soldiers to help the Allies in WWI and WWII. Most of the soldiers had been recognized by the federal government by late 2013.

American Economic Recovery After 2010

In the mid-2010s, the American public and the Presidential Administration were both frustrated with economic recovery post the Great Recession.They were annoyed by problems with national healthcare as well. The Onion parody mentioned above was a humorous toss of all the nation's problems onto the grave of Native North Americans, which graves have long been the basis for superstitions touting related bad luck and hauntings or other paranormal activity that constitute "bad luck.".

Yet, it cannot be "good luck" to have instituted the Indian Removals under President Andrew Jackson, not to have paid for all the native lands taken by federal administrations in the 1800s, and for private individuals to have stolen and sold native artifacts.

Squabbles over Native American mascots used by sports teams are likely not very important in the light of those other injustices.

Placing blame for economic declines in the USA at the feet of Native Americans is not reasonable, but perhaps a small part of the public feels it is just. As with many news parodies, some people believe the Onion report on this topic.

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

This Act of Congress protects Native North American graves and artifacts in the United States and its protectorates. the act became a federal law on November 16, 1990. "bad luck" may not occur from violating this federal law, but legal consequences can ensure.

Felony charges can be levied against violators of the law, including federally funded museums that purchase or accept donations of Native American artifacts in noncompliance with the law.

Recovery of Native American Artifacts

Along with several recognition events in the 2000s and 2010s for Native Americans, including Congressional Medals of Honor for people in the 33 nations or tribes that sent soldiers to act as Code Talkers in both world wars, we saw several discovers of Native American artifacts that were returned to their home nations. This occurred in parallel with European art discoveries recovered in caches that had been amassed by Nazi German looter-collectors.

In 2013, native burial grounds containing artifacts became the center of controversy in light of the intent of oil extractors to span the Bluegrass Pipeline through Kentucky over former Native American lands. The US Army Corps of Engineers began surveying the propsed pipeline route in or before 2012 and called in consultants.

Contracted archaeologists had been examining the land for artifacts and graves in preparation for passage of the natural gas pipeline, but looters struck the examined sites. Human remains had indeed been found in the summer of 2012.

Ceramic remains and an arrowhead were the beginning of the artifacts found. However, no Native American nations were notified of the finds (James Burggers; "Bluegrass pipeline; Indian burial site in way" in the The Courier-Journal, Louisville KY. December 4, 2013).

The pipeline is challenged by Kentuckians United to Restrain Eminent Domain (KURE), a nonprofit corporation. the Bluegrass Pipeline is planned for transporting natural gas liquids fro Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio (which is finally growing jobs thanks to its new oil and gas fields) to the Gulf of Mexico.


Hardin County, Kentucky; Proposed Bluegrass Pipeline

The Kentucky Bluegrass Region is unique. Nowhere else has similar geographic features, geological elements, and attractions like the Abbey of Gethsemane. It all has been formally recognized by the World Monuments Fund, NYC.

The region was formerly inhabited by Cherokee, Chickasaw, Shawnee, and Yuchi nations. The artifacts and burial in Hardin County might belong to any of the four, or to other nations passing through the state.

Conflict Between Pipelines and Native American Facilities

All this activity occurred in Hardin County, Kentucky, a large center of tourism in the state. Native American artifact finds in the area, even on private land, might lead to further development of related tourist attractions or academic study by research universities. New pipelines through the area would disrupt preservation efforts.

Concerns About the Bluegrass Pipeline

Pennsylvania has a well developed system of Native American historic sites and Kentucky might follow that state's example. Native Americans conceivably attempt might to purchase the land on which the artifacts and burials were found in Kentucky. either such a purchase or new tourist attraction could push the Bluegrass pipeline router further afield and even stymie the process of acquiring permits and laying the pipeline.

Native American nations in South Dakota consistently blockaded progress of Canadian trucks carrying pipeline parts and equipment in 2012 and 2013 across their reservation and southward. A similar blockade may occur in Kentucky, if pipeline construction begins over burial grounds.

Return of Cultural Artifacts and Native Partnerships

In 2013, a number of Hopi and Apache masks from the nation in the American Southwest turned up at an auction in Paris, France. The Annenberg Foundation in the US purchased the two dozen masks for over a half million dollars, intending to return them to the Hopi Nation and San Carlos Apache people.

Both nations had learned of the sacred auction of the masks and requested this action be stopped, but the auction house refused in December. Unfortunately, Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou in Paris sold over 70 Native American artifacts in April 2013 for over $670,000. (David Ng. "Annenberg Foundation was anonymous bidder for Native American artifacts." Los Angeles Times; December 11, 2013).

A 1970 UNESCO agreement may require that such native artifacts be removed from auction and returned to the original owners. Thus, international law also protects some North American artifacts.

Hopi Kachnia dolls have been sold to museums and private collectors, but returned to the Hopi.
Hopi Kachnia dolls have been sold to museums and private collectors, but returned to the Hopi. | Source

The American economy stands to be affected negatively, if Native American groups blockade several oil and gas pipelines. Failures of surveyors and archaeologists to report native discoveries along the routes of these proposed pipelines can result in ill will and legal charges.

The native nations along these areas might be consulted, as in the case of Native Americans on the reservation in North Dakota that is oil rich. Oil on the reservation led to creation of new native businesses, jobs for natives and non-natives and a long term source of oil for the country.

The superstition of Indian burial ground hauntings against intruders might be eliminated in this way

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Painting of Tawa, Hopi sun spirit and creator.Examples of traditional Hopi pottery.
Painting of Tawa, Hopi sun spirit and creator.
Painting of Tawa, Hopi sun spirit and creator. | Source
Examples of traditional Hopi pottery.
Examples of traditional Hopi pottery. | Source

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I am sorry that is happening in your area, JS Matthew. The thought of bulldozers and other equipment there on a sacred site makes me shudder. Thanks, indeed, for the Up and share.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      This is very interesting. We have a Council Oak a few miles from my house and a construction company was trying to remove gravel from the sacred site. There was a huge reaction and disapproval since this land was inhabited by us for at least 7,000 years. It really is a shame when big money comes before sacred culture. Up and shared.


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Hi Graham. It is a frightful history and it's true that Native Amricans also killed Europeans. But numbers of Native Americans have been increasing in the last few years, as have the numbers of American bison.

      I only recently learned that some code talkers came even from Alaska.

      I have been hearing a talk show host every day praising the bloodthirsty Myles Standish, who beheaded the son of one of the Natives who brought food to the earliest Plymouth Thanksgiving, and put the younger man's head on a pike at the entrance to the English settlement for years. The talk show host calls Standish a "real man." I don't see anything real or manly about a needless show of power. USA still has race-based crimes; but, I hope we're progressing, since the reports of violent crimes overall are declining - unless we have a large number unreported. Anyway, it's time to switch radio stations.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      6 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Patty. 100 Million lost that is an incredible figure. I was aware of the history but not such a figure. I was also aware of the code talkers and the contribution they made many years later. Excellent as is usual.

      voted up and all.


    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 

      6 years ago from UAE

      Nice and informative post.


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