If the law and the past are the only two segments of aboriginal American belief systems to be different from archaeologists, communication problems might be possible to solve. Sadly, they are not. The conflict is not simply a conflict between science and religion as some seem to suggest (Overstreet & Sullivan 1985, p. 51), but rather of fundamental differences in worldview. The questions centre on the past. How does one know the past? Who knows the past? Can the past be 'owned?' Who should control the past?
Cultural relativism must be applied to the problems. Is the Native American view of the past less valid than that of archaeology? The frequently uncompromising behaviour of archaeologists seems to suggest that we believe it is. The fundamental question for our profession should perhaps be whether or not a recognition of the validity of Indian views will alter our interpretations of the past. While compromise might limit access to human skeletal materials, our methods and interpretations will likely not be altered in any dramatic fashion. On the other hand, failure to recognize the validity of the views and, therefore, not to compromise, is probably the greater threat. Of no minor importance is a question of professional morality and ethics. If we do not consider the views of those we study, we risk violation of some professional ethical codes. Further, such emotionally charged issues seldom work out to the best interests of those cast in the role of exploiter and oppressor. Failure to compromise may limit any future access to prehistoric Native American human skeletal remains as Indians successfully use their symbols of power to raise public sentiment and turn it against archaeology. If this occurs, our ability to interpret the past will be fundamentally altered.
Larry J.Zimmerman, "Human bones as symbols of power: aboriginal American belief systems toward bones and 'grave-robbing' archaeologists," R. Layton (ed.), Conflict in the Archaeology of Living Traditions(London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), pp. 211-216.