by Courtney Stucker
“And so I just kept my eyes and my ears, my whole being, tuned to the protection of our ancestors. And I thought of them as living, breathing, human beings. I could not separate them in my mind as people who no longer existed in this world, because they are very much a part of this world, their spirits have come down through each generation to now. And so has the responsibility for the living to protect those resting places, for the dead.”
This first quote from Maria Pearson’s autobiography shows the importance of Native American spiritual beliefs about death. Her ancestor’s remains mean so much more than simply a pile of bones. They have a connection to the Earth and how we treat their burials will come back to us in the future. This is one of the many reasons Pearson was so motivated to speak out against any excavations of her people’s remains.
"You can give me back my people's bones and you can quit digging them up."
This is probably the most famous quote from Pearson. It inspired our film’s title as well as many other works of literature about her battles. As you will soon learn, the context of this quote was taken from Pearson’s first interaction with the Iowa governor and her first stand against injustice. The words are beautiful, the words are strong, and the words exemplify everything that her people stood for.
“Archaeologists only see our ancestors' remains as a bunch of bones, bones that have some trinkets with them that are valuable for resale. And so they treat us like they treat extinct animals; they try to relegate us to a subhuman culture so they can rob our dead. Because if they can make us less than human, then they feel they have the right to desecrate our graves.”
Indigenous people have been fighting to save their culture and to be seen as people. Throughout Pearson’s autobiography, she references the battles she had undertaken against those who wanted to study her ancestor’s bones for science. She makes a point that they never aim to study white remains, they only feel the need to study Native American remains as if they are less than human or some unknown animal. Even today, there is still a disregard for the spiritual beliefs that Native American tribes hold.
Courtney Stucker is the Digital Producer for Simplex Stories. Originally from Danville, IA, she has around three years of experience in content management, social analytics, and web development. Feel free to reach her at email@example.com.