Friday, June 19, 2015

UPDATE: Hutchinson's objection to the BIA: Are those really Quapaw graves?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 19, 2015 at 4:23 PM

click to enlarge The area in red is owned by the Quapaw Tribe; the purple road to the east of the property leads to the new headquarters of the Little Rock Port Authority.
  • The area in red is owned by the Quapaw Tribe; the purple road to the east of the property leads to the new headquarters of the Little Rock Port Authority.

Quapaw Tribal Chairman John Berrey has responded to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's raising doubt on whether the graves on Quapaw land near the Little Rock Port Authority are actually Quapaw. Hutchinson raised the question in his comment to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the tribe's request for the government to put the land in trust for the tribe. Berrey:

The graves have been established as Quapaw for many years by historians and scientists — authorities who specialize in such things — and the federal government agreed and returned the artifacts to the Tribe under the guidelines of Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Generations of Quapaws have grown up knowing those are Quapaw graves. We really don't understand the point of anyone even bringing this up. What is the point? It just piles insult onto the negativity. 



Hutchinson released his June 11 letter objecting to the tribe's request to put its 160 acres in trust, which would grant it Quapaw jurisdiction. Hutchinson and others fear the tribe will one day establish a casino on the property, though the tribe says it has no plans to do so. Hutchinson:

The Tribe's application asserts the burial remains are that of the Quapaw. However, the report provided by the Tribe does not offer definitive proof identifying the remains as that of the Quapaw people. Further, the Tribe asserts that there are also burial remains of African American slaves on the land in question. I am assured that the Tribe is interested in protecting the burial remains and that the Tribe has conferred with the Preservation of African American Cemeteries Inc. regarding protection of the African American slave remains. I have no doubt Chairman Berrey has a genuine desire to protect Quapaw remains. However, this desire alone is not sufficient to allay my concerns.

The non-Quapaw burial remains and historical presence which deserve state protection on the land at issue, coupled with the question of whether the earlier remains discovered on the land are Quapaw or that of an earlier people, gives me great pause. If the land were placed into trust, the state would lose the ability to protect the interests of the decedents of the original inhabitants and any other historical presence or artifacts discovered on the land. I am concerned about whether there is a rational basis to place the land into trust given these unrequited issues.


Berrey's initial response to Hutchinson's letter (in full on the jump) was that the U.S. intended the land to be occupied by the Quapaw. "This is land that was deeded and promised to the Quapaw Tribe as a homeland as compensation for our giving up millions of acres from the Mississippi River to Western Oklahoma. It was intended to serve as a permanent homeland. This will not deter the Quapaw Tribe from returning to our home in Arkansas. It's our destiny and we see this as just another temporary obstacle in the path." He also wrote,

The beauty of this process is the comment period that allows all pertinent governments to be heard. The Governor's response was very well written in the expression of some concerns, and we see that as an opportunity to further educate the state which we enjoy. The fundamental legal analysis is one concern we have, and the State's perspective is from a misunderstanding of definitions in this federal code. We see this as a concern by the State about something we aren't doing. 

Asked if the graves would determine the issue, Nedra Darling, a spokesperson for the BIA, would only cite the guiding law, U.S. 25 CFR 151. She did say that comments are very important. 

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