Suzan Shown Harjo’s essay, Last Rites for Indian Dead, revolves around the questionable actions performed by government agencies, private institutions, and common individuals who insult historical remains of Native Americans. These aforementioned organizations simply desecrate sacred burial sites of Native American by removing valuable human components, which raises many moral questions. Harjo illustrates her resentment against the insult of Native Americans through persuading the reader to contemplate the ethical issues presented in reliable evidence.
Harjo attempts to dissuade the poor treatment of the Native Americans’ earthly remains through an appeal to reason. The whole purpose of federal agencies and private research companies to collect the corpses, specifically the heads of Native Americans, was to diagnose them in order to create efficient medical treatments to benefit living Indians. On the contrary, Harjo inputs that assistant general surgeon, Dr. Emery A. Johnson, declares “’I am not aware of any current medical diagnostic or treatment procedure that has been derived from research on such skeletal remains.’” Logically, it would make sense to abandon medical evaluations that do not generate effective results by returning the corpses to their original tribes in order to ease the increasing contempt from Native Americans, even though such thoughts have not been put into action yet.
Furthermore, Harjo demonstrates the discouraging behavior against Indians through her own relation and credibility to the topic. Although Harjo is a Cheyenne Native American who has a considerable amount of bias on the issue, she provides reliable facts to support her opinion. For example, she describes how her Cheyenne relatives’ skulls were beheaded after the Sand Creek massacre and taken away into the Smithsonian Institution. Such actions performed by the government establish a common ground of disrespect toward Native Americans, who should essentially be considered as human beings, meaning such measures would insult any individual of any heritage.
Ultimatley, Harjo emotionally appeals to her audience through a humanistic connection of ethical ideals. She includes how Native American people are exhibited adjacent to dinosaurs and mastodons in educational institutions. As a result, Indians are essentially dehumanized into savages and as a dying species through the eyes of not only adults, but students as well. Therefore, pupils would naturally associate Indians as an inferior race without even defining what constitutes inferiority. In addition, Harjo introduces the logical fallacy of how collecting earthly remains of Native Americans represents them as archaeological property. Such actions are demonstrated as moral injustices that have already been agreed upon since the enslavement of African Americans.
Through dependable sources, Harjo successfully portrays how Native Americans are degraded by society. Although many private collectors have refused to relieve their excavations, many educational institutions and state legislatures have agreed upon returning tribal property. Such actions demonstrate how it is significant to respect individuals with dignity in order to prevent tribulations between society and government over questionable decisions.