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Graveline/My Turn: There's no hidden agenda

Over the years before my dad passed away, he offered me some sage advice. One offering that comes to mind today is “never argue with a man who buys his ink by the gallon.”

That being said, I feel a few words surrounding the Native American Burial Site Ordinance are necessary.

In the middle part of the last century, while on a trip to visit my mother’s family in the Deep South, I received my first lessons on racial discrimination when my family was denied access to restaurants and motels because of the tawny color of my Native American mother’s skin. Fifty years ago, those memories were still fresh in my mind when I heard the Rev. Martin Luther’s King’s inspired speech on the Washington Mall. He spoke of love, equality and our shared humanity. The next year, in Greenfield during the summer of 1964, an ancient (10,000-year-old) Indian village site and burial ground, about the same size as the Green River Cemetery also located in Greenfield, was being mined out for use as road base needed for the Route 2 Bypass under construction at that time. The stumps and ancestral human remains not used for road base were observed each day being unceremoniously dumped across the street and bulldozed into the White Ash Swamp, in effect creating a new burial ground.

Now as I approach my 64 birthday, I am painfully aware of how slowly change happens. The memories of what discrimination felt like in the summer of 1957 still challenge me as I wonder: Would the citizens of Greenfield treat the Green River Cemetery in the same way the Indian tribal burial ground was treated?

The Nov. 6 Recorder editorial implied that passing a Native American Burial Site Protection Ordinance is just a tool to fight development. I see this as an over-used excuse to stall the long overdue conversation about granting equal treatment to Native American burials that all other cultural groups enjoy.

The proposed burial ordinance is simply a mirror we as society can hold up, look into and ask: “how far have we come since the ideas, ideals and words of great men like the Rev. King challenged who we are as a nation and a people?” For me, personally, the passing of this ordinance at this point well into the second decade of the 21 century, is making a statement: Greenfield is making space to honor and respect the values of all segments of our society, including the right of the ancestors of the first peoples to rest in peace.

I would like to note that I have worked on many very large projects over the years as a tribal field monitor during and beyond the archaeological phases of those projects, and I can report back to the public that multi-million-dollar projects and respect for tribal cultural resources and spiritual beliefs can happen all at the same time.

Let’s lose the fear over this conversation and embrace a future where all are welcomed and respected.

Joe Graveline is president The Nolumbeka Project.

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