Posts Tagged ‘Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act’

Removal of Jim Thorpe’s Remains

November 9, 2009

Both AP and UPI wire services report that Jim Thorpe’s sons plan on suing the Borough of Jim Thorpe, PA to have his remains removed from the town that now bears his name to the graveyard near Shawnee, OK in which Thorpe’s father and other relatives are buried. Jim’s youngest son, Jack, is quoted as saying, “According to Sac and Fox tradition, Dad’s soul will never be at peace until his body is laid to rest, after an appropriate ceremony, back here in his home. Until then, his soul is doomed to wander. We must have him back.”

According to the UPI, Thorpe wanted to be buried in the Oklahoma cemetery with his relatives but, at the time of his death, his family didn’t have the resources to build what his widow thought to be a proper monument to her late husband and the governor of Oklahoma declined to provide to necessary funding. Mrs. Thorpe then negotiated an arrangement in which the boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, two towns in which Big Jim never set foot, would merge and be renamed after the football star. They were also to build an appropriate monument. According to all accounts both sides lived up to the agreement, but the expected tourist interest never materialized.

The attorney representing the Thorpe family plans to file a law suit in Federal Court in Philadelphia later this month under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. That act requires that federal agencies and institutions that get federal funding return American Indian remains to their families or tribes. I suspect that this law was intended to deal with bones and artifacts that graverobbers sold or gave to museums, schools or government agencies, not for agreements freely entered into. This is a tough case because there are no bad guys. The question I have is: who would suffer most if his remains are not returned to the family? Perhaps Bob Wheeler, the author of the definitive Jim Thorpe biography, can shed more light on this.