The Commonwealth ‘Owns Everything They Find’
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts currently asserts that they own any historical or cultural resources they discover – even on private property.
Practically, this means that they never have to disclose their discoveries to the public. And that’s how it works today. Rare Indigenous sites just silently disappear.
The Commonwealth does not care that this claim of ownership conflicts with federal law in many cases – because they know you don’t have enough information to take them to court. Hiding information is their #1 strategy.
It is in fact illegal for you to read the Commonwealth’s archeological site reports, even though these efforts are entirely taxpayer funded. A Freedom of Information request won’t get you anywhere. They claim that this is to prevent looting – a small problem according to experts.
Serious conflicts of interest abound. When the Massachusetts Department of Transportation discovers an Indigenous site in the way of project work, it is that agency’s OWN responsibility to interpret the magnitude and significance of the discovery for the public.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that most discoveries have “no significant research value”. And when they absolutely can’t avoid it, they hand it to the Massachusetts Historical Commission…
The Massachusetts Historical Commission’s Record
The Massachusetts Historical Commission’s preservation ratio of Colonial sites to Indigenous sites is 300:1, one of the worst in the country.
MHC has been named as having the “most extreme policy of all 50 states” regarding treatment of Indigenous sites, according to Moore and Weiss in the Ohio Journal of Archaeology, 2016.
There has never been a Native American appointed to the 17-person Massachusetts Historical Commission.
You will not find a single picture of anything remotely Indigenous browsing through the official Massachusetts Historic Preservation Plan 2018-2022.
The Massachusetts Historical Commission exists because the Commonwealth can not receive federal funds without having it, in order to “comply” with federal law, the National Historic Protection Act.
MHC is a highly protected, nearly unreachable, rubber stamp organization run by the same Executive Director, appointed by the same Secretary of State, for over twenty years now.
The MHC makes sure that no federal funds destined for the Commonwealth are ever impeded by the discovery of a federally protected Indigenous site. They clean the site, using friendly archeological consultants, and the site is gone. The public never hears a whisper.
Twenty years of facts indicate that our system here in Massachusetts is entirely broken.
Now the Stakes are Increased: Full Ancient Nuclear DNA Can Be Recovered from Sites
In 2021, scientists for the very first time were able to recover full human nuclear DNA from 105,000 year old cave dirt.
That begs the question of whether this human data should belong to the living relatives of those Indigenous people. With access to both ancient and modern DNA, we can now quantify that relationship.
At the very least, now that we know many or all ancient Indigenous sites contain recoverable human nuclear DNA, does it not seem proper that the living Native Americans who trace ancestry have some rights in regards to that data, especially if it is under threat of permanent obliteration by a third party?
Just imagine what scientists will be able to do a few generations from now in terms of non-destructive archeology using advanced sensors. There will be no reason to dig up and destroy these sites that have cultural, spiritual, and historical value to so many modern residents of Massachusetts.
All WE have to do today is not allow these ancient sites to be destroyed.