Landmark Settlement Protects Native Burial Site
HAMBURG, N.Y. -- Attorney General Spitzer, Seneca Nation of Indians President Duane Ray and Haudenosaunee official Richard Hill today announced a landmark legal settlement to repatriate human remains and cultural artifacts that were excavated illegally from a Native American burial site in Western New York.
The lawsuit, filed jointly last year by the Attorney General, the Seneca Nation of Indians, and the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, against a Buffalo archaeologist marks the first time any state has sued under the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to preserve Native human remains and cultural resources.
The complaint alleged that during a two-year period beginning in 1998, Dr. Richard M. Gramly removed human bones and funerary objects from the burial site as part of an archeology field course offered at Canisius College, where Gramly is an adjunct professor. Most of the items were stored at the Great Lakes Artifacts Repository in Buffalo, an unincorporated artifacts business run by Gramly. The human remains were improperly stored in cardboard boxes in a hallway at Great Lakes without climate controls or other preservation measures. At least one of the cultural items was used to decorate Gramly's office, while others were given to friends and family members.
"We must respect and protect the cultural heritage of all people," Spitzer said. "The human remains and funerary objects excavated from this site are of immense cultural and religious significance to the Seneca Nations. The disturbance of this burial site not only violated federal and state law, but the manner in which Dr. Gramly stored and used these items for personal gain, violated common decency."
The burial ground, known as the Kleis Site, is located on private land in the Town of Hamburg. The site contains the remnants of a 17th Century Iroquoian village and burial ground, and is one of a small number of Native American villages on the Niagara Frontier. The Kleis Site is listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places.
Seneca Nation President Ray said: "We are very pleased with the outcome of the case and the state's decision to work with us and the Tonawanda Nation to stop the excavation of this burial site. For far too long, the graves of Indian people have been viewed simply as areas for scientific study or commercial opportunity. But we are the descendants of the people who are buried at those sites. We hope that this case will provide a foundation for further cooperative work with the state, and others, to protect these sites and to enhance public understanding about the importance of these sites to Indian people."
Hill, Chairman of the Haudenosaunee Standing Committee on Burial Rules and Regulations, said: "The Tonawanda Senecas and all of the Haudenosaunee were deeply saddened and offended by the blatant, disrespectful desecration of our ancestors' graves. We had attempted to address the recurring excavations in recent years that have caused our people great anguish and pain. Today's announcement will go a long way to ensure future protections for our sacred burial grounds."
Under the terms of the settlement, Gramly has agreed to permanently cease excavations at the Kleis Site, and repatriate all human remains and cultural items from the site to the Seneca Nations. Gramly has also agreed to refrain from excavating any other Native American burial grounds in New York, and to obtain written permission from affected Indian tribes prior to excavating any other Native American archaeological site in New York. The settlement also provides that Canisius College will observe a moratorium on excavation of Native American burial grounds.
Spitzer said that today's settlement would establish a model for protection of other Native American burial sites.
The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Christopher Amato of the Environmental Protection Bureau, which is headed by Bureau Chief Peter Lehner.