Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

August 1994


Published in Great Plains Research 4:2 (August 1994). Copyright © 1994 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


Pawnee efforts during the late 1980s to have the remains of their ancestors returned for reburial drew international attention. Their eventual victory set many legal and ethical precedents for proper treatment of American Indian human remains. Battlefields and Burial Grounds tells the Pawnee story, but in the broader context of the national reburial issue. It is a story of dominant society science versus indigenous beliefs and rights.

The collection and study of Indian remains grew hand in hand with colonialism and the development of American archaeology. Even though there is more than adequate evidence that some of the first collectors knew that their actions were improper, sacrilegious and offensive to Indians, the needs of science took precedence. Combined with the notion that Indians were disappearing and didn't seem to object, the collections grew by means as repulsive as collecting heads after battles and robbing burial areas. As archaeology matured, the methods of collection became more scientifically sophisticated as did the sorts of information gathered from the remains.