Catch a Falling Star

NEW YORK – The Willamette Meteorite is a sacred icon to the Oregon-based Clackamas Indians. The tribe has its own name for the massive space rock, Tomanowas, and holds an annual religious ceremony with the meteorite in its home at the American Museum of Natural History.

Now a chunk of the 10,000-year-old meteorite is up for auction, and the tribe is denouncing its sale.

Larry McShane, MSNBC

NPR, like most mainstream media, got this story all wrong. They like to pretend that they are going to be ‘objective’ so when they do a story about the sale of the meteorite they feel compelled to mention the Native American tribe that believes the sale is wrong.

On one side, just a regular guy, and on the other, an Indian Tribe; one says yes, the other no. It’s done with just a touch of winking irony that hints that these Native Americans are a little wacko. The story should have been about where we draw the line on ‘monetizing‘ our common heritage.

You don’t have to believe in ancestors or gods to understand that there is something very wrong when natural history museums are selling scientific artifacts at public auctions. Or, in this case, trading away 28 pound chunks of the Willamette meteorite for Darryl Pitt’s piece of Mars. Why didn’t Pitt simply give the American Museum of Natural History his Martian rock?

NPR did include a story about ‘evolving ethical standards’ but it was very limp and focused mostly on museums. The problems seems to me much larger, symptomatic of an aggressive individualism that too often Trumps the collective good. No one gains when catalogs like this suggest that there are no limits to what can or should sold.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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