briefly noted - 17.1
Five years of effort by a small Aymara community in the Bolivian Andes have been rewarded by the return of 48 sacred weaving that were stolen by dealers in ethnic art during the 1970s and 1980s. Working with U.S. native groups, anthropologists, and legal experts, the people of Coroma have been searching for weaving taken from their community for sale on international markets.
At a September 1992 ceremony at the Bolivian embassy in Washington,D.C, the sacred weaving were returned to representative of the community. Bolivian president Jaime Paz Zamora and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady officiated. Three weeks later, Coroma held a ceremony to welcome the weavings home as they were returned to the care of the community's ayllus (lineage groups).
The return of the sacred weaving is particularly significant because it may mark the first time native peoples have gained the repatriation of stolen religious objects on an international level. The sacred weavings were stolen throughout the 1970s and `80s by North American ethnic-art and antiquities dealers and their hired Bolivian intermediaries. To dealer and collectors, the textiles were "ethnic" or "primitive" art, antiquities, and object of commerce. To the people of Coroma, they continue to be sacred objects.
The return sets a precedent for efforts by native people in the United States, and internationally, to reclaim sacred items and secure religious freedom. The U.S. government via U.S. Customs and the Cultural Property Advisory Committee played an instrument role in locating and returning the weavings. This strong effort to protect the religious rights of native peoples internationally could be a model for domestic policy as well.
The finely woven textiles have been highly esteemed for centuries throughout the Andes, playing an important role not only as garments of beauty and warmth but also as objects of veneration and status. Many of the weavings have social meanings that are integral to the continuity of community life. In Coroma, the sacred weavings, which are hundreds of years old, are kept in q'epis (bundles). The weavings were the clothing and contain the spirits of the founding ancestors of the 10 Coroma cal embodiment of the ayllus and are necessary to the social and spiritual well-being of the community. The focus of religious rituals, they are consulted in community decision making.
"The sacred weavings have great importance to the people of Coroma," Pio Cruz declared in 1990. A member of the community who has been active in seeking the return of sacred weavings, he added that "the structuring of our community is based on the weavings. They are the documents of history." According to Cruz, with the theft of the weavings, "we have lost something that is the basis of our life, that is fundamental to our spiritual belief."/P>
There are several reason why the people of Coroma emphasize that the weavings were stolen and must be returned. First, the people of Coroma consistently stress the enormous, spiritual value of the weavings, far exceeding and different from their monetary value. Consequently, the weavings are under the guardianship of the ayllus and are communally owned, so if they aren't in the community, they are, by definition, stolen. Bolivian law recognize communal ownership and also prohibits the removal from the country of textiles woven prior to 1950. Finally, a 1970UNESCO Convention on cultural patrimony recognize the need to protect items of national historic value from international trafficking. Both Bolivia and the United States have signed this convention.
These factors helped Coroma mobilize a network of allies to support efforts to find and reclaim the textiles. Native peoples in the United States provided fundamental support in this process. In 1990, representatives from Coroma came to California to meet with native spiritual leaders and to identify and inventory sacred weavings seized by U.S. Customs. California Indians welcomed the spirits of Coroma's ancestors and offered assistance in recovering the weavings. "The local Indians welcomed the spirits of Coroma's ancestors and offered assistance in recovering the weavings. "The local Indians and the spirits of this land will be with [the spirits of Coroma] during the short time they have to spend here," declared Joe Carrillo of the Tule River Reservation.
This collaboration between native peoples of the Northern and Southern hemisphere validates the many shared historic and cultural ties linking native peoples throughout North and South America. According to Victoria Bomberry, a Muscogee/Delaware Indian. "The repatriation of the sacred weavings is a victory for Native American people who are reasserting their right to practice their religious." In December 1992, seven U.S. Native Americans who had worked for the return of the sacred Coroma weavings traveled to Coroma to reaffirm and strengthen their resolve to work for religious freedom and locate and return weavings that remain in the United States.
The return of the weaving underscores the need to recognize and acknowledge the distinction between art or antiquities, which are potentially marketables, and sacred objects, which are necessary for ceremonial use. When a dealer tells a potential art buyer that an object is "ritual" or "ceremonial," the question needs to be asked. "What happens to the ceremonies of these people when this object is absent?" This shift of awareness could lead to a set of professional ethical standards among dealers that would help control their less scrupulous colleagues.
Moreover, the Coroma repatriation process makes it evident that dealers, collectors, and museum professionals must join with naive peoples in addressing the complex issues surrounding repartriation. I the United States, repatriation has most often concerned native peoples, museums, and archeologists. In contrast, the Coroma repatriation focuses on dealers and private collectors, as well as their association with museums and other institutions.
On Friday night, August 28, 1992, about 30 people began a religious ceremony in Oahu's Halawa Valley, shutting down construction on the H-3 Freeway. The next morning, the women and men, some dressed in traditional grab, set up a bamboo altar on the road and began on awa ceremony and prayer vigil at a spot many of them say is a hale o papa - a temple for women.
Traditional Hawaiians believe that the valley was the home of Ppa, the earth mother and female ancestor of all Hawaiians. Women of Hale O Papa and the Halawa Coalition, the groups sponsoring the protest, felt they had exhausted all legal measures to protect the sacred and historic sites in North Halawa Valley. They want to stop plans to put a tunnel on what they believe is an important complex of ancient burial grounds and historic and sacred places, including sites in the town of Kane'ohe dating from the fifth century and 800-year-old sites in the Halawa Valley.
At about 5 a.m., with police, construction workers, and Haaii Department of Transportation officials looking on, a blessing began the ceremony. People went to a rock that is considered the most sacred spot on the site and offered gifts. Four women carried a bamboo lele (altar) to the middle of an access road. Mililani Trask, a lawyer, said the lele was placed at that spot because it is between the men's and women's heiaus (temples), across the road from each other. The ceremony called upon ancestral spirits to protect the valley's sacred sites.
Representatives of the Transportation Department and the construction companies told the group that they, too, value the valley's scared sites, adding that they had orders to protect any significant finds. They then asked the people to leave. Trask responded that ancestors of Hawaiians were burried in the valley and the burial sites shouldn't be covered with concrete. "Your undertakings are desecrating our lands," she said. "It is more than a job. It is morally and ethically wrong."
At 8:45 a.m., about 150 construction workers were sent home after waiting almost three hours. Police arrested 13 people, charging them with obstructing a roadway. Nine others were removed from the valley for blocking concrete trucks on an access road. According to the Honolulu Star Bulletin, Trask, one of those arrested, said the group was concerned about "the First Amendment right to worship. That is the issue here, not trucks or police or anything else."
Some people had been camped at the sites since April, when the controversy erupted after Barry Nakamura, and anthropologist at Honolulu's Bishop Museum, charged the state and the museum with concealing the importance of a very significant complex. The museum fired him shortly afterwards. since then, the museum and Transportation Department have said the site is an agricultural complex with no religious significance, although the state has indicated it will probably realign the freeway to avoid the heiaus and four other sites. However, members of the Halawa VAlley Coalition and the Women of Hale O Papa believe that the complex includes many more sites, including religious ones, than the museums admits and don't want any freeway in the valley.
Efforts to stop H-3, the most hotly contested public-works project in Hawaii's history, actually began 20 years ago. In addition to indigenous protests, environmentalists express concern over clearing a 1,000-foot-wide corridor for the freeway. The valley is a designated conservation area, as is all the land along the freeway route. H-3 could destroy much of the land girding Ho'omaluhia Park, which is already threatened by land cleared for the new Minami Golf Course. In addition, slit run-off from construction is ending in Kane'ohe Bay.
Court battles, rallies, and public and private meetings mounted by the Stop H-3 Association and others delayed most roadway, tunnel, and interchange projects for 17 years, and H-3 has already been relocated. Construction went ahead only after Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the project's chief sponsor since 1963, engineered its exemption from major federals environment laws in 1986.
Pushed by environmentalists and native activists, in 1984 the Hawaii Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration asked Bishop Museum to examine the archeological and historical significance of a two-mile segment of the proposed freeway corridor. However, all four of the original archeologists on the project have left their jobs in the last 18 months in disputes over museum policy; many news papers reports suggest that remiss policies about the H-3 digs were the reason.
The most important finds so far have been a series of rock enclosures that were part of the ali'i kauhale (chief's house), several basalt mirrors, adzes, and flakes. One artifact has been described as unique: Wai ea (water of sovereignty), a stone bowl, with a protruding head and face, that is used for ceremonies that protect the nation. According to Pual Cleghorn, former H-3 project director for Bishop Museum, over 60 archaeological sties have been identified in North Halawa.
It is a terrible desecration of my native culture," says Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, who teaches Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii. "This is my land. Those are the monuments of my ancient people the Department of Transportation is running the freeway through."
On September 13, the Halawa Coalition and the Women of Hale O Papa returned to the valley to re-bury four sets of human remains removed for the freeway construction. Bishop Museum had turned the bones over the Ohau Burial Council and two people who claim the remains are those of their ancestors.
A Reserves for Zaire's Ituri Forest
In May 1992, Zaire's minister of environment and conservation declared part of the Ituri, one of Africa's most biologically diverse and intact tropical forests, a protected area. The creation of the Okapi Nature Reserve, covering 40,000 square miles of the Ituri forest, will alter the lives of the Efe forager (pygmy) and Lese farmer tribes living there - but exactly how remains unclear.
The reserve means that the Efe and Lese will need to adapt to change, explains David Wilkie, an ecologist at the Tuffs University Center for Environmental Management. By restricting land used by outside interests, "a reserve can provide a sort of breathing space for locals to develop the tools for ecologically sound long-term subsistence," he says. "It also reduce the likelihood of large-scale clear-cutting that can make environmental refugees out of forest depend people."
On the other hand, a reserve could be "a double-edged sword" in that measures designed to conserve the Ituri's biologically diverse flora and fauna could significantly restrict indigenous people's subsistence practices and thus have large effect on their lifestyles. In fact, says Wilkie, "A lot of people still believe they may be thrown off their land or not allowed to hunt for food as a consequence of the reserve's establishment."
According to Wilike, the inhabitants of the Ituri will need to develop political skills, and a collective voice, if they are to have a say in development plans for the area and to protect customary landtenure rights. Otherwise, it will be difficult for the Efe and Lese to avoid being subject to the power of outside interests who are making life-chancing decisions for them.
The Efe and Lese Pygmy peoples of the Ituri rain forest, located in northeastern Zaire's Congo River Basin, live by traditional hunting, trading, gathering, and fishing, much as their ancestors did for centuries. The Efe (archers) and Mbuti (hunters) are among the last cultures that live in Africa's rain forests by hunting and gathering wild resources, which they both consume themselves and trade to the Lese and other neighboring farmers.
To the Efe and Lese, the main advantage of the Okapi reserve will be its longterm restrictions and commercial exploitation of the forest, says Wilkie. This is especially important, given Zaire's current serve economic condition. Rather than being managed for sustained use, Zaire's rain forests are in danger of being mined for their resources, as they were in many places between 1900 and 1960, when Belgium ruled the Congo. Longing companies are already clear-cutting or removing the best timber from large areas of previously untouched forests within 60 miles of the reserve.
The current instability of the government of Zaire also threatens to undermine the reserve, as well as the protection it might provide for the rights of the Efe and Lese and their continued access to their traditional lands and forest resources. The country has little clear leadership, and the potential for further riots and looting in the major cities has citizens and investors more than a little nervous. The lack of political and social stability has forced many donors, including U.S. AID and the World Bank, to interrupt payments to the Okapi project, Wilkie notes.
Western Shoshone Land Battle Escalates
On November 17, 1992, the federal Bureau of Land Management escalated its harassment of Mary and Carrie Dann, Western Shoshone sisters living on a ranch near Crescent Valley, Nevada. Under cover of a BLM-imposed media and transportation blockade, agency officials confiscated about 270 horses from public grazing areas where the Danns' animals run. The incident follows five decades of maneuvering by the U.S. government to seize the lands of the Western Shoshone (or Newe nation), comprising about 80 percent of Navada.
Until November 15, the Dann sisters had BLM authorization to graze 170 cattle and 10 horses on public land, but the agency says they were running up to 2,000 head at a time and causing extensive overgrazing. However, according to a spokeswomen for the Western Shoshone Defense PRoject, most of the horses and BLM seized in November were wild, not part of the Dann or other Western Shoshone herds.
The Dann's fight with the BLM centers on grazing rights and land ownership. The sisters and the Western Shoshone National Council maintain that they are running their livestock on tribal land, which is subject to Indian, not federal, law. The claim that the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley guarantees Western Shoshone land titles, which have never been reliquished.
A legal battle has been waged in U.S. courts let standing ruling stripping the Western Shoshone of all hunting and fishing rights in Nevada. According to attorneys for the Western Shoshone, this effectively denies them "access to wildlife resources and customary practices crucial to their material well-being and cultural dignity."
Although the Supreme Court has ruled, the conflict is far from resolved. The Western Shoshone have refused to accept some $26 million (based on 1872 land values) the government awarded them in 1979 for lands the Shoshone have never sold or reliquished. According to the 1946 Claims Commission Act, accepting financial compensation would mean permanently losing their land titles and bar the Western Shoshone from seeking further compensation. The government has placed the funds in a trust account on behalf of the Western Shoshone. With accumulated interest, it now totals around $74 million.
The financial award resulted from a 1951 lawsuit field on behalf of the Western Shoshone by Robert Barker, an attorney the tribe later fired to fraudulently representing their interests. "[We] never understood that by filing with the Claims Commission we're be agreeing that we lost our land," explained Glenn Holley, then spokesperson and chair of the Temoak Bands of Western Shoshone. Because many Shoshone didn't speak English, "they thought we were just clarifying the title question."
Only 23 years later was this decision called into question. As the Danns herded cattle near their home, a BLM ranger demanded to see their grazing permit. The sisters replied that they didn't need one because the land was part of the Western Shoshone nation. Charged with trespassing, the Danns insisted that John O'Connell, their attorney, invoke their aboriginal rights and challenge the United States to prove it had title to the land. Referring to the 1951 case, the judge ruled against the Danns, fined them $500, and ordered them off the land.
In 1978, the Danns appealed this decision, but the new trial wasn't held until the next year. O'Connell accused the government of delaying the case long enough to allow the Indian Claims check to be issued, thus extinguishing Indian title. Indeed, after the BLM had placed the $26 million award in a trust account on behalf of the Western Shoshone, Judge Bruce Thompson declared that that extinguished Western Shoshone titles.
The Danns are not alone in facing BLM harassment. The agency has taken four Western Shoshone leaders to court for authorizing a round-up of wild horses. In 1990, to prevent overgrazing on the land, they had ordered a round-up of 77 wild horses on public land near the Duckwater Reservation. Although it is illegal to round up wild horses without BLM permission, the Western Shoshone leaders authorized the round-up based on their religious beliefs to protect Mother Earth. The BLM has been widely ciriticzed by both Indians and ranchers for failing to control the growing wild horses population in Nevada and the east of the West. The court is expected to decide on this case soon.
Meanwhile, the Danns remain on their ranch. Despite economic hardship and continued harassment by the BLM, the Danns and the Western Shoshone still refuse to accept cash for land they believe is theirs and the underlies their economic, cultural, and spiritual identity.
Maori Seek Land and Fishing Rights
Citing at 1840 treaty, New Zealand's Waitangi Tribunal declared late in 1992 that Marori entitled to almost all the present-day fishing revenue from the waters around South Island. Most of the New Zealand's $800-million-a-year fishing catch comes from this area. The farreaching but non-binding ruling has led to a series of meetings between Maroi negotiators and the government, but even among Maori opinions differ as to what an equitable settlement would look like.
At the heart of the debate are commercial fishing rights and Treaty of Waitangi, signed 152 years ago by Maori leaders and Great Britain. The treaty established British governorship over New Zealand and granted Maroi chiefs and tribes "full, exclusive, and undisturbed possession of their lands, and estates, forests, fishers, and other properties." However, New Zealand's laws and court long made it impossible for the Maori to secure aborifinal titles to land and fishing rights.
In recent decades, the treaty has gained stronger legal backing. REsponding to growing Maori activism, the Waitangi Tribunal was created in 197 to monitor observance of the treaty principles in new legislation. Far more important in 1985, the government extended the tribunal's jurisdiction back to 1840.
The tribunal's recent report on the fishing rights increased the pressure for New Zealand to reconsider the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and raised the desire to reach a compromise. New Zealand Prime Minister Jim Bolger announced that the government couldn't accept the full findings of the tribunal. "No settlement can ignore the development of New Zealand over the past 150 years," he told Broadside magazine. "We are in 1992 not 1840."
In the wake of the Waitangi ruling, some 50 Maori leaders met with government officials and signed an accord on October 23 to permanently settle the dispute over fishing rights. New Zealand pledged $80 million to help Maori tribes jointly purchase, with Briefly Investments, Sealord Products, the country's largest fishing company. The proposed settlement would override the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, so Maori would give up the right to press for traditional fishing claims.
While most Maori who were pursuing fishing claims under the Treaty of Waitangi accepted the settlement, not all are satisfied with it. Several tribes have refused to surrender their claims, including the Ngatikahungunon, one of the largest tribes, and the Moriori. Also opposing the deal are the Ngua Tahu. The tribunal's decision specified that the Ngua Tahu are entitled to exclusive fishing rights along virtually the whole South Island coastline and a reasonable share of fisheries up to 200 miles offshore.
In all, a dozen Maori tribal groups have launched legal battles to halt the agreement between the government and Maori fishing negotiators, arguing that it couldn't bind Maori who didn't sign it.
Many Maori feel that no amount of money can void the original contract, while others, including both Maori and their supporters, see a compromise as necessary. While Maori have slipped further into poverty, companies like Sealord have amassed 70 percent of New Zealand's total fish revenue from South Island's waters. "The need for a viable economic base is perhaps the single most important issue facing Maori today," notes Alan Phillips, executive director of Minority Rights Group, a London-based human-rights organization. He also notes that "for over 150 years the vast change in the population, social structure, economy, and administration mean that a return to the situation of 1840 is impossible."
In late November, the New Zealand Court of Appeals dismissed the challenges to the Sealord deal. Referring to pending legislation on the agreement, the court said it wouldn't interfere in parliamentary proceedings. "Parliament is free to enact legislation on the lines envisaged," wrote Robin Cooke, president of the court. "Whether or not it would be wise to do so or whether there is sufficient `mandate' for any such legislation are political questions for political judgement."
Even so, the issue is far from settled. Among other things, Carter Holt Harvey, owner of Sealord and one of the New Zealand's largest companies, may decide not to accept the Maori-Brierly offer to buy the fisheries company. In that case, a Danish-New Zealand consortium has put in a bid. This would bring yet more uncertainty to Maori claims.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
You can help the Efe and Lese by donating to the Ituri Fund, launched in 1987 by David Wilkie, Robert Bailey, Gilda Morelli, and other scientists who have been working in the Ituri since the early 1980s. When Zaire stopped paying school teachers in a region of the Ituri Forest, the team members talked with the local community and decided to fund the teachers themselves.
With the establishment of the reserve, the Ituri Fund, now a Cultural Survival Special Project, has taken on a new task. Lask of medical facilities in the area means the malaria, pneumonia, and intestinal parasites kill 20 percent of children before they reach 5 years of age and sap the strength of those who must provide food and shelter for their families. After the community asked for assistance and had built a wattle-and-daub hut for a clinic, the fund supported the training and salary of a local person as a health-care workers and subsidized the cost of medicine. The Ituri Fund is seeking ways to support the training of more local people as healthcare providers, health educators, primary school teachers, and community organizers.
Checks payable to Cultural Survival - The Ituri Fund can be sent to CS, 215 First Street, Cambridge, MA 02142.
Contact key U.S. officials and demand that the government negotiate directly with the National Council of the Western Shoshone. Emphasize the need to recognize native land rights and compensate the tribe for its losses.
Secretary of the Interior
Department of the Interior
18th & C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Bureau of Land Management
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.