Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Geronimo's Heirs Sue For His Remains

For over twenty years the great Apache war chief Geronimo was held as a prisoner of war by the United States government at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma, dying in 1909. He was buried there, in a cemetery reserved for Apache prisoners of war. On the 100th anniversary of his death, his ancestors filed suit for his remains, arguing that his spirit cannot be freed until he is permitted to return home:

The suit, which names US President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates among the defendants, seeks "to free Geronimo, his remains, funerary objects and spirit from 100 years of imprisonment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the Yale University campus at New Haven, Connecticut and wherever else they may be found."

The remains would be returned to Geronimo's wilderness birthplace in the western United States for a true Apache burial, a key facet of the native American tribe's culture.

"The spirit is wandering until a proper burial has been performed," Harlyn Geronimo said.

"The only way to put this into closure is to release the remains, his spirit, so that he can be taken back to his homeland in the Gila Mountains, at the head of the Gila River," in what is today the state of New Mexico, Geronimo said.

"Hopefully, the people we have named in our suit will take this seriously ... Hopefully, they will seriously consider our request to release the remains and perform a correct burial in the Gila wilderness," said Geronimo, stressing that the burial ritual is one of the most sacred rites in the Apache culture.

One of the defendants is the legendary secret society at Yale, Skull and Bones, members of whom claimed to steal remains from Geronimo's grave in 1918, an event that may (or may not) be apocryphal.

In 1990 Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, in an effort to make up for hundreds of years of grave robbery and destruction by archaeologists, thieves looking for treasure or trinkets, and developers. The Act would seem to apply in this case, though I don't have detailed knowledge of how it's been employed. It'll be interesting to see what a federal court thinks of the matter.

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