Umatilla: The Indian Graveyard
My people were from there. And so we believe that when they were buried,
they should remain there, because it's not up to me, not up to anyone
else to disturb [them]. . . a lot of the American society says. .
.'I don't know why they have a problem with it. They're there, they're
dead, they don't need them.' But then we believe otherwise, that those
are our people there and you don't have the right to desecrate them.
. . if I went into Arlington National Cemetery and started digging
for war medals, it wouldn't last very long.
Thomas Morning Owl, April 1999 Interview
When buildings were removed from the Umatilla townsite, vandals and pothunters flocked to the cleared area, disrespectfully removing native artifacts and bones. Although the rising waters of Lake Umatilla initiated archaeological excavations along the Columbia River, some did not take place because grave sites were so badly damaged by pothunters and construction. Archaeological protection on federal lands was not mandated until 1979, but the Umatilla Indians influenced the Corps of Engineers to address the vandalism. In 1975, after 15 months of negotiations the Corps funded a burial relocation on the Umatilla Reservation in Mission, Oregon. A small area containing 230 gravesites was excavated, and hundreds of artifacts were recovered and reinterred during the summer of 1976. Native religious leaders from around the region attended the ceremony and a funeral feast followed.