Instructor says remains deserve respect

By Carol Ekstrom

Indian remains deserve the same respect as remains from other cultures, according to one NIU history instructor.

Mike Fraga, a history instructor specializing in Latino, Chicano and Native American cultures in the United States, is also a Native American.

Fraga’s desire to learn more about his heritage is what prompted him to study history.

“Because of my educational upbringing, I’ve made a conscientious decision to find out more about my indigenous roots,” Fraga said.

“My experience has been to bridge my past,” he added. “I won’t deny my European heritage, (Portuguese, Italian, Spanish) but I won’t deny my Mexican and Indian heritage either—this is why I study history.”

Fraga said reclaiming the bones of Indian ancestors from museums and bringing them back to their respective resting place is a way of preserving what is sacred to their culture.

Digging up a Christian or Jewish cemetery and displaying the human remains found there would be quickly condemned by the American public, Fraga said. Yet, countless museums across the country display skeletons and other objects found in Native American burial sites.

“When an Indian burial site is dug up, you are dealing with the spirit world—they need to be left alone and respected,” Fraga said.

Fraga said the organization of T.E.A.R.S. (To Enable our Ancestors to Return to the Spirit-world) is doing something about a burial exhibit in Dickson Mounds State Museum in downstate Lewiston.

The organization said it is willing to work with museum officials and the state in providing alternative exhibits that would be more educational and respectful of Native American rights and tradition.

Whether or not these people have living descendants is not an issue, the group said.

Fraga said he believes museums are useful learning tools, “but not to display remains of the dead.”

Fraga said supporters of this organization believe the displays promote racism. No other group of Americans is displayed in such a manner and thus denied their right to rest in peace, he added.

Fraga, who is also assistant director at the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies, believes education is the answer.

“If we know of the different cultures in our country and what is sacred to them, we can begin to respect them,” he said.