On Friday I was in Chicago giving a workshop for teachers. It took place at Chicago's Field Museum. During my presentation, I showed slides of the ways that American Indians are portrayed in children's books. Among the slides is one from Sid Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur. Published in 1958 it is a perennial favorite and part of HarperCollins I Can Read series. In the story, Danny goes to a museum. Inside he sees "An Indian, a bear, and an Eskimo" in one of the exhibits. I showed a slide of that page in my presentation. There is much to say about why American Indians are placed alongside animals, but the point I wish to make today is about American Indian artifacts and remains that are held by museums across the country.
In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). From the NAGPRA website:
NAGPRA provides a process for museums and Federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items -- human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony -- to lineal descendants, and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. NAGPRA includes provisions for unclaimed and culturally unidentifiable Native American cultural items, intentional and inadvertent discovery of Native American cultural items on Federal and tribal lands, and penalties for noncompliance and illegal trafficking.
In 1994, Lerner published a terrific book for children about the work of American Indians whose work led to NAGPRA. The book is called Battlefields and Burial Grounds: The Indian Struggle to Protect Ancestral Graves in the United States, by Roger C. Echo-Hawk and Walter R. Echo-Hawk. Unfortunately, it is out of print. Both men are Pawnee. This is an important book. Each year, hundreds of teachers take their students on field trips to museums. As you plan this year's trip, will you visit a museum that has American Indian exhibits? If so, spend time with Battlefields and Burial Grounds before you go. It will be time well spent.