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Indian Burial Grounds

The Indian burial ground is an enduring myth in American pop culture. It's at the root of countless bad novels, TV shows, and movies where a supernatural source of power is needed.

What exactly is an Indian burial ground? I'd define it as any place where traditional Indians intentionally buried several of their dead in the ground.

People often include Indian mounds or any sacred Indian place when they talk about Indian burial grounds. An Indian mound may contain the tomb of an Indian ruler, but unless it contains several tombs, I wouldn't call it a burial ground. Many Indians consider any place where someone is buried sacred, but again, unless several people are buried there, I wouldn't call it a burial ground.

Are Indian burial grounds as prevalent in reality as they are in fiction? I don't know, but I doubt it. Considering that Indians died of many causes, had many burial practices, and often were nomadic, it seems doubtful that many tribes had the equivalent of Western-style cemeteries. I suspect few tribes had enough people living in one place at one time to need a burial ground. Most cultures that practiced burial probably buried people by themselves, in isolation.

Why so many burial grounds?
Why do Indian burial grounds (IBG) figure in so many bad works of fiction? Activist Terri Jean offers her theories:

Another Indian Burial Ground, Please....

Theory One: The IBG plot-line worked in one movie, so it'll work in others. And they'll use it as long as people buy the tickets or rent the videos. (This is my "no duh" theory.)

Theory Two: Graveyards are often pretty darn spooky, but most are clearly marked. The location of many indigenous graveyards are often unknown, so they could pretty much be anywhere.... you might even be on one right now. This possibility allows for much creative license with screenwriter's who need a reason why a home or property would be haunted.

Theory Three: The "bad Indian" cliché is a cinematic stereotype that subconsciously reaffirms the "savage" preconceptions deep within the minds of the masses -- thus allowing the Manifest Destiny ideology to remain, justifying a races near extermination.

Theory Four: People are scared of Indians. They're mystical, magical shape-shifting creatures who, at any moment, will pop out from behind a tree and strike you dead -- or, worse yet, you'll piss one off and he'll lay a curse on your soul that can never be broken.

Theory Five: Karma and guilt. Americans know that atrocities were committed and hundreds of nations were obliterated or nearly obliterated. Retribution is feared, and some people may believe that the ghosts of those who died due to this nation's invasion and European takeover will some day come back to get their revenge.

I'd say it's a combination of all five reasons, with an emphasis on theory #3 and #4.

Indian burial grounds in the Stereotype of the Month contest
Indians in Old Christine
Drawn Together:  Indians convert burial ground into casino
Smallville Indian attempts sacrifice in sacred burial ground
Bizarro shows Indians digging in home for burial ground
Website labels Indian beliefs and practices "demonic"
Kan. football news:  "Redskins buried at Burial Grounds"
Jaycees hold "Trail of Fears" near Cherokee mounds
Texas ignores oral history, digs up an Apache graveyard

More on Indian burial grounds
Tribes didn't have cemeteries
Viking ship buried with Indians
Music video about burial grounds
Postcard of burial ground
Indian poltergeist in Family Guy
Skeletal chief in Family Guy
Mission threatens burial ground

Related links
Indian Burial and Sacred Grounds Watch
Native things that go bump in the night

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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