Digging into Human Remains Legislation

Written by Jamie Kouba

“I have a project that I’m working on and I thought you might want to help”.  That’s how it all started.  Dr. Andrea Palmiotto asked me if I’d be interested in helping her work on a grant funded project.  Honestly, I was just excited to help, I probably would have said yes to just about anything.  Once I found out what the project was and that it involved archaeology and the law, I was completely sold! Due to the publicity that the

Arch Street Project received for the unexpected discovery of hundreds of human burials, members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly were made aware of certain complicating factors that must be dealt with when human remains are inadvertently discovered.  The Center for Rural Pennsylvania (CRP) is a bipartisan legislative agency that serves the Pennsylvania General Assembly in helping to create rural policy.  In 2019, CRP tasked Dr. Palmiotto with providing a comprehensive assessment of Pennsylvania legislation related to human remains and burials, specifically those of archaeological concern, such as abandoned or forgotten cemeteries, or isolated and unmarked burials.  Although there are federal laws regarding the discovery of archaeological remains, those laws only apply to projects that include federal involvement.  In the state of Pennsylvania, there is no state-level legislation that adequately addresses the inadvertent discovery of archaeological remains on state owned, state-funded, state-assisted projects, or private property.

After some conversations about what we thought Pennsylvania was missing, in terms of legislation, we ended up with more questions than answers.  What is supposed to happen when human remains are discovered?  Who is in charge?  What happens to those remains after a disinterment?  Dr. Palmiotto and

I made a list of agencies in Pennsylvania and other states that we needed to contact in order to gather case studies, and we got to work.  Due to the pandemic, we couldn’t meet with any of these agencies in person. Luckily, we had technology and so we did months of research and interviews through emails and Zoom.  We gathered dozens of stories, field reports, and news articles and we started to assess which laws were applied to each project and why.  As it turned out, because there was only a web of partially intersecting local laws, state laws, and standard operating procedures among different agencies, every case was handled differently.  It was really interesting to see how different agencies interpreted that patch work of laws and put them to use.  Seeing how each of the projects were handled with the utmost care and respect for the deceased was wonderfully reassuring to my faith that modern archaeology is not grave robbing.

It took about nine months; but at the end of it, we submitted a completed report to CRP that outlined the existing laws and standard operating procedures that are currently being utilized in Pennsylvania and in other states, as well as making recommendations for new legislation that will help to create best practices for the future of archaeological burials.  Copies of our report were published by Pennsylvania General Assembly and sent to other state agencies.  It is our hope that these recommendations will be used to guide Pennsylvania in the respectful and efficient recovery of human remains.  Although Dr. Palmiotto and I didn’t use any trowels, our digging into the Pennsylvania’s laws and regulations regarding archaeological remains will serve the future archaeological record.  And for that, I’m so very grateful that I got the chance to work on this project.

The article can be found here: Historic-and-Archaeological-Human-Remains-2021.pdf (palegislature.us)

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Suffrage and Haudenosaunee

Illustration titled “Haudenosaunee” by Jessica Bogac-Moore. Source: https://www.yesmagazine.org/

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment which granted women the right to vote.  When we study the women’s suffrage movement, the focus tends to be on the Seneca Falls Convention and three main activists: Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage.  However, history rarely discusses the women of the Haudenosaunee women who inspired these three incredible women.  Since the creation of the United States of America, men have been the center of attention.  They were given the right to vote, create laws, manage money, and had complete control over everything his wife and daughters “owned”.  However, not all governmental systems were like this.  The Haudenosaunee of New York, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, was a democracy (possibly the world’s oldest still in existence) which was based on a matriarchal system.  Women were not only included in conferences, had ownership of possessions, and could vote on matters, but they also had great authority and could even dismiss clan leaders.

Cady Stanton lived in Seneca, NY and had close contact with members of the Haudenosaunee and saw first-hand a better life for women.  These interactions greatly impacted her view on the world, and she wrote many of her impressions of the Haudenosaunee women in the National Bulletin.  Mott also spent time discussion politics and women’s roles in government

Elizabeth Cady Stanton one of the major activists of the suffrage movement

with these women.  Gage admired the equality among men and women of the nation.  To these three women, and the rest of the women who follow the very male-centered American cultural system, this way of life probably seems like heaven on Earth. Haudenosaunee women could divorce their husbands with ease and keep all their possessions and children. While in the event of an unlikely divorce, the American woman was left with nothing.  American women did not have money, possessions, agency, or control over their physical being. They were little more than child baring objects for men to control.  Wedding vows included a statement that the women would “obey” her husband, a statement which Cady Stanton omitted from her vows.  Men were allowed to beat their wives, and rape or sexual assault did not exist within a marriage.  Among all these problems, there was one overarching issue that needed to be addressed.  In order to change or create laws to improve women’s lives, men had to take action.  Not only were women forced to rely on men in their daily lives, but they also had to rely on them to better their stations.  This was not so for the women of the Haudenosaunee.  Clan mothers had the authority to take away male authority and change clan leadership.  They were consulted at every conference, treaty meeting, and any other major political event.  This female presence often made the American male representatives rather uncomfortable.

It is unfortunate that many of these First Nation women are nameless and not mentioned in history books.  This nation had democracy and gender equality before the United States even existed.  We as people who live under the US Constitution, owe our democracy to these democracy First Nations and we as women owe our rights and ability to vote to those women who through living their lives, inspired other women to make a change.  Other cultures can offer so much information that can change the way someone looks at their own culture.  Just like Cady Stanton, Gage, and Mott were inspired by the Haudenosaunee women, we can be inspired by many other cultures from around the world.  It is important to consider other ways of life and view them not as an “other” but as something to seek new experiences from.  Maybe we live better lives if we take a little outside inspiration.

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Sources: Yes Magazine and http://www.suffragettes2020.com/resources/native-american-and-american-indians


The Vote

The 2020 election has been a wild ride for all parties and people across the country.  For better or worse this has been a rather historic election with unprecedented conditions, turnouts, and outcomes.  This is especially true for the many First Nations people who have been elected to offices in the local and national levels.  At the federal level, Yvette Herrell a Cherokee member from New Mexico became the

third First Nation woman to hold a seat in the 117th Congress’s House of Representatives.  She will join Deb Haaland (laguana Pueblo from New Mexico) and Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk Nation from Kansas) who won their seats in 2018 and were reelected this year.  For New Mexico, this is the first time that two First Nations women will be representing the state.  Another record for First Nation women was that highest number of women (18) were running for congressional seats making up 2.6% of the women running for election. In total, six indigenous person won seats in the House of Representatives Tuesday.  This includes Native Hawaiian Kaiali’I Kahele for Hawaii, Tom Cole (Chickasaw Nation) and Markwayne Mullin (Cherokee Nation) for Oklahoma, and the three women previously mentioned. Many more ran and were elected to positions at state and local levels. Details are reported on Indian Country Today and can be found here.

The COVID-19 pandemic further eliminated the lack of consideration for and hardships of Native American tribes and reservations.  Lack of health care, clean water, internet, and electricity on reservation lands made it difficult and sometimes impossible for the people living there to stay safe.  It also showed how little the government has done to help the tribes and others living in similar situations.  However, this year also showed the country what an important role First Nations can play in politics.  Groups like Native Vote aim to increase awareness of how important it is to vote.  They register voters, discuss issues, recruit poll workers, and education people about the election system in order to increase voter turnout.  In the past, First Nations people have had the lowest turnout rates because of various barriers placed upon them.  First Nations votes have changed electoral outcomes in the past and have the ability to do that same in this election. As of last year, there were 1.2 million eligible First Nation voters who were unregistered. See more from GlobalCitizen here.




While statistics are not yet available for the turnout at this election, the impact has already been felt.  More First Nations people have been elected to office this year than any other.  Their voices are beginning to be heard and it appears organization such as Native Vote have been successful.  Only time will tell how those results will play out in the presidential election.  The long-forgotten constituency is finally making waves in politics. Let’s see how big they get.

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