Thursday, February 19, 2009

Yales's Grave Robbers

The news this morning brought up the lawsuit of the Apache nation against the Yale University Skull and Bones Society, seeking the return of Geronimo's remains, which they claim were stolen in about 1919 in desecraton of the holy burial grounds.

This news strikes remarkably close to me. One of the Bonesmen involved in the
desecration of Geronimo's burial ground is supposed to have been Winter Mead, class of 1919 and a fellow Bonesman with my grandfather and who I knew as a very young boy as "Uncle Winter". The story of the grave robbing and desecration is told in some detail by Gary Trudeau over the course of several
recurring episodes of Doonesbury. I'm near certain that it is true. It has been the source of
considerable shame for some time, because of my grandfather's implicit involvement with the perpetrators.

This sorry history came very close to the surface not long ago when Mary Casoose, an Apache woman of considerable distinction and who had lived with my family for a year on an exchange program, came to South Hadley for four days' visit with my family for my father's funeral. Dad had received the grandfather's clock, given by Bonesmen to each other as wedding presents, on his father's death. Inside, together with a glass beer mug in the shape of a skull, there was a small leather booklet with photographs
and signatures of the Yale Bones class of 1919. Among the signatures I read while, seated in the living room next to Mary was Winter Mead. I felt proud that Dad had in his own small way and perhaps unknowingly, done penance for his father's friend's sins by becoming a friend and mentor to Mary, who has become the tribal leader of her community in Arizona.

It is both appropriate and my fervent hope that the Apache plaintifs win the case and that:

a) the proceeding brings considerable daylight to the case and to the society and

b) the judge imposes hefty punitive damages that significantly impact the obscene wealth of the society.