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James Bushong

English HL A
9/17/14
RRJ #1
What is the cost of knowledge? The human ability to observe, study, and analyze our
environment around us is one of the most valuable skills that we possess. That is why I can record my
thoughts on a piece of plastic and metal powered by trillions of sub-atomic particles and print them out on
thinly sliced trees. When you look at the amazing things that we accomplish with new information, you
would tend to think that no price is too high. However, there is no black and white side to this issue. If
you could kill a bug and cure a persons cancer, you would obviously kill the bug. The bug would beg to
differ. On the other end of the spectrum, there are records of horrible medical experiments conducted on
prisoners by Nazi and German doctors during WWII. Many of these involved the intense pain, torture,
and the eventual death of the subject. Yet we have still benefited from some of this research.
When there is no concrete rule, the question becomes At what point does the price of obtaining
new information become too high to pay? When this question is applied to the question of Native
American repatriation of cultural artifacts, many complications arise. Whose view is more important, the
Native Americans or the anthropologists? What can we actually learn from these artifacts that will benefit
us in the future? In this academic argument we have two opposing viewpoints offered by Clement W.
Meighan, against the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), and Larry J.
Zimmerman, for NAGPRA. Both have intelligently written positions, but you cant fully agree with
opposing opinions, so one must be decided to be superior.
Clement Meighans argument has many strong points. He also has the ability to write his
argument to play on the human fear of forever. This is evident when he says that archaeologists are
writing a chapter of human history that cannot be written except from archaeological investigation (64).
At least for me, the thought of losing that information forever is a very sobering. There may be a whole
culture that we may never know about because of the rules that our government has decided to make.
Meighan also does an excellent job of explaining what we can actually learn from Native American

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artifacts. Upon first thought, you would think that there is little that history can teach us about the future.
Meighan quells these questions with well placed words that explain all of the research that we can now do
and might be able to do in the future.
I think that the biggest detriment of Meighans argument is the emotion that he puts into it.
Emotion is a big part of a lot of arguments, but it has no part in an academic debate. He frequently
expresses skepticism at Native American traditions, implying that they are unimportant and that they need
not be followed. He goes on to ask how anybody knows if Indians believed that a corpse must be
covered with red flannel and not touched by menstruating women?(66). I think that he would do well to
remember that while someones beliefs may sound ludicrous to you, your beliefs sound ludicrous to them
also.
Larry Zimmermans argument appeals to our humanitarian side, pointing out the consequences
that continued archaeological study could have. Zimmerman postulates that archaeological study could
hurt Indian culture, saying the archaeological version eventually will replace the traditionally
constructed past and their culture, once again, will be eroded (67). Destroying a culture is something no
one would ever want to be blamed for.
Zimmermans argument also has some points. He likes to concentrate on the positive and
successful side and ignore the possibility that something might not succeed. Zimmerman believes that
collaborating more with Native Americans will create a very different discipline.(68). While this may
be true, he is ignoring the possibility that some tribes may not be open to collaboration at all. In that case,
artifacts may be lost forever. Another weak part of his argument is his odd insistence that archaeologists
arent the most capable of preserving artifacts. That is what archaeologists are educated for, and to say
otherwise is a disgrace to the profession. Zimmerman also says that we should be able to rely on Native
American oral tradition histories for anthropology. I dont understand how he can even entertain such an
idea, let alone publish it. Does he also suggest that we disregard evolution and replace it with creation
stories from various aboriginal cultures?

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In conclusion, I agree with Meighan more that I agree with Zimmerman. I believe that it is an
absolute necessity to gain and record as much knowledge as we can. I also believe that one critical fact
has been overlooked in this argument. Who does this knowledge benefit? The answer is everyone. This is
not just a matter of Native Americans and their religious freedom. This is a matter of all of humanity
having access to information that we can use to improve and better ourselves. I also strongly disagree
with Zimmermans reasoning that introducing facts into a culture can harm it. Any avoidance of factual
information is atrocious behavior, but I also have trouble believing that every Native American prefers
ignorance to truth. I believe that Zimmerman likely had some sample bias when he was obtaining these
opinions. Meighan also had flaws in his argument, and should not have had such an emotionally charged
argument. After reading these arguments, I believe that Congress should repeal NAGPRA to allow the
continued study of Native American artifacts to gain information that can benefit all of humanity. Though
we may not know how know, one never knows what the future may hold.