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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
November 15, 2004
Volume 40, Number 4

Student Research
Outside the Box > > Rebekah HorseChief

Contaminated items hinder repatriation
By Laurie Mellas Ramirez

HorseChief reads a declaration outside the UNM Bookstore advocating for "Indigenous Peoples Day."

On Election Day, UNM senior Rebekah HorseChief shared her aspirations for law school and public service. A top-notch student leader, one can’t help but ask – is the highest office in the land appealing?

Certainly, she said, right after she amends the U.S. Constitution.

Of Pawnee/Osage descent, she said, under the Fourteenth Amendment, she and fellow Native Americans are naturalized citizens and ineligible for the U.S. presidency. She would also like to amend the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act passed in 1990. She joins a small group of researchers nationally concerned with the contamination of cultural items, human remains and sacred and funerary objects.

According to historic documents, museum records and interviews with museum employees, most, if not all, museum collections of organic materials – such as human remains and animal furs – are treated with pesticides and other hazardous chemicals. Because of shoddy museum record keeping, it is difficult to discern which items are contaminated, she said.

Once repatriated, cultural materials are handled differently in a tribal setting and pose greater health risks for tribal people than for trained museum curators, HorseChief finds. “This poses a bigger question – how does this affect the repatriation process for tribes?” she asks. “We want more accountability from NAGPRA.”

HorseChief will share her research at the first UNM Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium on Monday, Nov. 22, in the SUB.

Her presentation, “Contamination of Repatriated Items and the Repatriation Process,” is scheduled in Lobo Room A from 4:20-4:40 p.m. She joins a student panel discussion about the value of faculty mentors in Ballroom C from 1-1:50 p.m.

Nearly 400 UNM students will present their research during the first Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium on Monday, Nov. 22, in the SUB. Rebekah HorseChief’s presentation “Contamination of Repatriated Items and the Repatriation Process,” is scheduled in Lobo Room A from 4:20-4:40 p.m.

A class taught by John Gates, Native American Studies adjunct faculty and Fulbright scholar, inspired her repatriation research. English Professor Elizabeth Archuleta is her faculty mentor. “Ms. HorseChief will be a force to contend with once she completes law school,” Archuleta said. “I am familiar with the passion and conviction that she brings to the classroom and she is not afraid to pursue what is right. After all, she has already traveled to Mexico to support the Zapatistas in Chiapas.”

Born and raised in Pawhauska, Okla., HorseChief moved to New Mexico in 1991 with her mother Deborah who accepted a position with the Native American Program in the School of Engineering. Deborah returned home to provide social services to the Osage tribe, and Rebekah stayed to pursue a degree at UNM. “I’m very proud to be a UNM student. I’ve had so much fun, especially this semester. It’s so easy to be involved and active,” she said.

Recruiting other students to participate in campus activities and challenging wrongs against indigenous people are her passions. On Columbus Day, students in the Native American Studies Socio-Political Concepts course, taught by Mary Bowannie, decided the federally recognized holiday was not historically representative of all Native Americans nor does it recognize native contributions, survival or genocide. “Indigenous Peoples Day” was born and students celebrated with a peace rally near the bookstore and read a declaration at the SUB. HorseChief is organizing an alternative to Thanksgiving. The Indigenous Fall Feast will be held Tuesday, Nov. 23 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at NAS, Mesa Vista Hall, rm. 3080. Everyone is invited to attend. Sign up to donate a dish at the department.

She recently submitted proposals for two chartered student groups – the Native American Studies Indigenous Research Group and Native American Studies Indigenous Honors Society. Showcasing native contributions is also on the horizon for HorseChief. “I would like to write a new history book,” she said. “It’s such a travesty that so much about indigenous people is left out. It seems like arrested development to me.”