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Repatriation and Reburial of Ancestors

Description: Pecos National Historical Park, New Mexico and the Pueblo of Jemez formed a partnership to carry out the repatriation and reburial of Native American ancestors in 1999. The partnership was first an unintentional outcome of history dating back to the early 1900s, and second, a close working relationship genuinely sought after by both the park and the pueblo since the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was established in 1990.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), requires federal and other museum facilities to inventory, establish cultural affiliations, and publish in the Federal Register the Native American human remains and certain objects in their possession.

Inventories of NAGPRA-protected human remains and objects that originally were excavated from locales in what is now Pecos NHP were published in ten Federal Register notices submitted by the park as well as other state and private museum facilities. The majority of the NAGPRA remains and objects were the result of Dr. Alfred Vincent Kidder's excavations at Pecos Pueblo between 1915 and 1929, when the property was in private ownership. Although Dr. Kidder was astutely aware of the long standing, well documented, and close relationship between Pecos Pueblo and the Pueblo of Jemez, it was unheard of in the early 1900s to consult with Native American descendants concerning the excavation of their ancestors' homes and graves. The human rights legislation of NAGPRA corrected such professional shortcomings and made it possible for remains and objects to be rightfully claimed by and returned to culturally affiliated tribes. The Pueblo of Jemez made a claim after the publications of the ten Federal Register notices.

Upon repatriation to the Pueblo of Jemez of the human remains and objects in the NAGPRA inventories, the pueblo requested reburial of the ancestors at Pecos NHP. (Reburial is not a consideration under NAGPRA.) Although the largest unit of the park is roughly 5,500 acres, it is nonetheless a challenge to prepare a single common grave for the remains of over 2,000 people due to the concerns about impacts that such a large excavation might have on the park's resources. The traditional and political leaders of the pueblo shared the park's concerns. With their help, the park was able to provide a suitable grave that resulted in very little damage to park resources. More importantly, the park staff and pueblo will both play active roles in the continual responsibility of taking care of the recently reburied ancestors.

The reburial took place in May of 1999 under mutually agreed conditions contained in a Special Use Permit. Planning for the event included:

  • Opening and closing the grave (600+ feet long by 12 feet wide and 6 feet deep)
  • maintaining a respectful interment process
  • controlling media attention as well as privacy in a public park
  • meeting OSHA safety standards
  • providing security details
  • accounting for what is in the grave
  • providing an adequate infrastructure for invited guests (some 2,000 people)
  • meeting the timetable of their religious clock
  • recognizing 'those who made it possible'
  • celebrating a successful reburial with a catered feast at the end of the day.

As this undertaking moved steadily towards its climax and place in history, the people of Jemez and the staff at the park forged life-long bonds that are expected to be passed on to our respective successors for the benefit of all. In fact, other partnership endeavors, such as Pecos Pathways, sprouted during the last planning phase of the reburial. The Pecos Pathways program is described below in "Accomplishments to Date."

Geographic area covered: Pecos National Historical Park includes three non-contiguous units totaling nearly 7,000 acres in San Miguel and Santa Fe Counties in northern New Mexico. All of the park lands are ancestral homelands to the Pueblo of Jemez and a dozen other Native American tribes and Hispanic communities. The Pueblo of Jemez is also in New Mexico about 90 miles west of the park.

List of partners and relationships: The relationship that forged between the primary parties-Pecos National Historical Park, the Robert S. Peabody Museum, and the Pueblo of Jemez-is a unique partnership of stewardship. Each partner has legal domain over a certain aspect of heritage resources. The park owns the lands, structures, and burial grounds of the Pecos Pueblo people; the museum owns 95% of the museum collection that was once part of the every day life of the Pecos Indians; and the pueblo was given fiduciary responsibility for the Pecos Pueblo culture in a 1936 act of Congress. The respective stewardship responsibilities can be successful only through a continued relationship and was perhaps best exemplified by the work done for the NAGPRA inventory, establishing cultural affiliations, adhering to the legal protocol, transporting the human remains across the country, and reburying them.

Pecos National Historical Park - The park continues to manage the daily care of the ancestral grave and the Kidder Collection. Part of the collection is on display at the Pecos NHP visitor center with the bulk of it stored at the park. The partners listed here provided untiring assistance to the staff at Pecos National Historic Park during the 1998 reburial.

Pueblo of Jemez - The last governor of Pecos Pueblo emigrated to the Pueblo of Jemez in 1838 taking his Canes of Office (one presented to the Pecos Governor by the King of Spain in the 1600s and a second cane presented by President Abraham Lincoln). The Pecos Pueblo culture continues today through the Eagle Society at the Pueblo of Jemez. The Pueblo of Jemez provided the leadership for the other pueblos and tribes who deliberated over the course of eight years in determining the disposition of the Kidder Collection. They continued their leadership role through the reburial as the Eagle Society, political leaders, other traditional leaders, and the people of Jemez organized and managed all of the events of that day. An afternoon of speakers, drummers, and food followed the re-interment of the ancestors. Traditional leaders continue to advise park staff on grave maintenance issues each year.

Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology - On the campus of Phillips Academy at Andover, Massachusetts, the Robert S. Peabody Museum sponsored the excavations of Dr. Kidder in the early 1900s. The "Kidder Collection" is the result of that work. Most 1,300+ NAGPRA-protected objects repatriated to the Pueblo of Jemez are from the Kidder Collection. The RSP Museum organized several of the consultations and coordinated the Federal Register notice of the NAGPRA inventory on behalf of both Peabody museums. The objects returned to the ownership of the Pueblo of Jemez as well as the remaining portion of the Kidder Collection (a total of nearly 100,000 items) are on loan to the park. The three entities-the park, pueblo, and museum-unanimously believe that the collection should remain at the park.

George Peabody Museum, Harvard University - At the time of Dr. Kidder's work at Pecos Pueblo, the R S Peabody Museum was closely associated with Harvard at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Forensic anthropology specialists at Peabody-Harvard were quite naturally called upon by Dr. Kidder to analyze and store the human remains from his work at Pecos since R S Peabody lacked such staff and facilities. Nearly 2,000 of the human remains reburied at the park in May 1999 had been at Harvard since their excavation 70+ years prior. This museum prepared the remains for safe transport to Pecos NHP.

Museum of New Mexico - Between 1935 and 1965, the main ruins complex comprised of Pecos Pueblo, a couple of Spanish Missions from the 1600s and 1700s, and a handful of other small pueblos, were part of the New Mexico State Monument system. During this time, several hundred sets of human remains and associated funerary items were excavated by archeologists. The Museum of New Mexico team planned and conducted their NAGPRA inventory as a part of the whole Pecos-Jemez repatriation. These human remains were included in the repatriation to the Pueblo of Jemez and the reburial at the park.

Maxwell Museum of Anthropology - This facility, which is on the campus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, serves as the repository for human remains under the jurisdiction of the Museum of New Mexico. The Maxwell staff was instrumental in completing the NAGPRA inventory for Pecos collections generated during the 1935-1965 time period and providing well-known expert opinion in the field of physical anthropology during the consultations.

Accomplishments to date: The reburial of human remains representing 2,067 Native American ancestors was accomplished in the same 'human rights' tenor as the repatriation under NAGPRA that preceded it. The magnitude of the event and the smoothness in which it proceeded set the standard for dealing with other human remains issues at the park. In one such case, a protocol was adopted for dealing with several hundred human skeletal elements (that is, individual bones as opposed to individual skeletons) removed from their original graves but now eroding out of piles of dirt. The protocol also encompassed the treatment of human bone fragments eroding from the adobe walls of the Spanish Mission. The adobe brick makers used deposits from the pueblo trash mounds for their material. The deposits contained artifacts, charcoal, and small fragments of human bone presumed to be broken away from burials in the deposits at the time the bricks were made.

The repatriation-reburial partnership lead to creation of the Pecos Pathways program. Pecos Pathways, a hands-on educational program for high school students, was initiated in 1998 during the detailed planning of the reburial. Students from the Pueblo of Jemez and Phillips Academy work and live one week at the pueblo, one week at the park, and one week in the Andover-Boston area. In 2004, the partnership hopes to add students from the local Pecos schools to the program. Over the years, students have had hands-on experiences in archeological survey, site recording using sophisticated electronic equipment as well as simple tools, pottery making, archeological excavation, pottery identification, stone tool identification, museum cataloging of artifacts, researching traditional uses of plants in northern New Mexico, bread making and baking in an horno (an outdoor oven), maintaining a restored floodplain on Glorieta Creek, and using GPS equipment in the field to record locations of the Santa Fe Trail ruts.

An important result of the continued relationship with the Pueblo of Jemez is having the benefit of their frequent involvement in park activities and events. For many families at Jemez, this was their ancestors' homeland for centuries and a place the Pecos descendants stay connected to throughout each year.

Key success factors:

  1. The fact that the association between the Pecos Pueblo and the Pueblo of Jemez is well-known and well-documented as probably the single most influencing factor in the success of the partnership with the Pueblo of Jemez in working through the repatriation and reburial. The strong association is the basis for determining cultural affiliation, often the most contentious part of the NAGPRA process. The Pecos-Jemez ancestral ties are so well known that other tribes with connections to Pecos Pueblo and the surrounding area defer to the Pueblo of Jemez in taking a leadership role on park matters.
  2. Steady effort and work over the years, constant communication.
  3. Understanding and respect for each other's goals and constraints.
  4. Sincerity.
  5. Recognition of the Pueblo of Jemez as a sovereign nation with whom NPS worked on a government-to-government basis.


  1. From the beginning, the schedules imposed within NAGPRA to complete the inventory were unrealistic from the perspective of having a 100% inventory and cultural affiliation established on time. These expectations set forth in the law were more acutely frustrating for the pueblo since they were inundated with correspondence and lists from all over the country.
  2. A few months before our Federal Register notice was published, we discovered information that brought a culturally associated tribe into consultation. Consultations had been progressing with the main players for nearly ten years. Inclusion of the additional Native American tribe at such a late stage was difficult for all parties involved in the inventory, determinations of cultural affiliation, and repatriation.
  3. A lingering frustration today is the lack of resources at the park to move ahead on new matters requiring Native American consultation with the same show of progress as we had for the repatriation and reburial.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. Working from a point where common ground has been established provides a sound platform for tackling problems encountered along the way.
  2. Emotional investment in a project with your partners can be the fuel that keeps work focused and on track despite setbacks and diversity of opinions. Emotional investment is not calibrated by the amount of emotion that is displayed; rather, it is a sure and genuine belief that the project goals are worthwhile and beneficial to many.
  3. Begin planning a project by answering questions on how a project can be done instead of what cannot be done.
  4. Build upon one successfully completed partnership project by undertaking another project with your existing partners.

What would you do differently next time: Develop a written agreement concerning the maintenance of the grave site at the same time the Special Use Permit was being put together. While there was no discord between the pueblo and the park on this issue, it was left to do as an afterthought, long after the reburial took place. The risk is a difference of opinion coming from those who replace us in our jobs at the park and new political appointments at the pueblo.

Suggested resource materials: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Public Law 101-601, 16 November 1990); Department of the Interior Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Regulations (43 CFR Part 10); Our Prayers are in this Place - Pecos Pueblo Identity over the Centuries by Frances Levine (University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1999); An Ethnographic Overview of Pecos National Historical Park by Frances Levine, Marilyn Norcini, and Morris Foster (report on file at Pecos NHP, 1994); The Indians of Pecos Pueblo - A Study of their Skeletal Remains by Earnest Albert Hooton (Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, 1930)

For more information:

Name: Judy Reed, Chief of Cultural Resources
Affiliation: National Park Service, Pecos National Historical Park
Phone/Fax: 505/757-6414 ext 3; 505/757-8460 (fax)

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising __; Capital Improvements __; Facility Management __; Trails __; Design __; Program Delivery __; Visitor Services __; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __; Cultural Resources _X_; Education/Interpretation _X_; Arts __; Information Services __; Transportation __; Mutual Aid __; Fire Management __; Planning _X_; Tourism __; Community Relations __;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Judy Reed, Chief of Cultural Resources, Pecos NHP Date posted: 4/22/04
Phone: 505/757-6414 x3

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