The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, April 06, 1999, Page 3, Image 3

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    Preserved brain sparks debate
■ American Indians
want ‘Ishi’s’ brain restored
to their community.
COLMA, Calif. (AP) - In a simple
black jar set atop mottled stone, the
ashes of a man believed to be the last of
his tribe lie surrounded by the silence of
the dead.
Chiseled into the surface of the con
tainer are the words: “Ishi. The Last Yahi
Indian. 1916.”
In another quiet room 3,000 miles
away, Ishi’s brain floats in formalde
hyde, part of the Smithsonian
Institution’s anthropological collection.
American Indians want Ishi
restored in whole to his tribal homeland.
“I think we’re breaking new ground
due to the fact that, as far as history is
written, there’s no descendant to the
Yahi tribe,” says Art Angle of the Butte
County Native American Cultural
Committee, which is requesting the
return of Ishi based on a claim of cultur
al affinity.
Smithsonian officials say they’re
willing to return the brain - but not until
they have determined who has a legiti
mate claim, likely to be a complex task
because the Yahi were long ago wiped
out by settlers and disease. And while
Ishi was long described as the last Yahi,
other theories about his ancestry may
complicate the repatriation.
On Monday, the California
Legislature tackled the matter with a
nearing exploring what became ot the
man known as “the last Wild Indian in
hforth America.”
“The revelation that Ishi’s brain was
separated from his body prior to crema
tion and sent to the Smithsonian
Institution is a continuing affront to
Native Americans and ought to be an
embarrassment to the state of
California,” says state Sen. Patrick
Johnston, one of the conveners of the
Ishi walked out of the past and into
post-Gold Rush California early one
August morning in 1911. He was found,
emaciated and near starvation, crouch
ing against a slaughterhouse fence near
Oroville, in Butte County, and soon
drew the attention of University of
California anthropologists. One of them
was Alfred Kroeber, a revered Berkeley
figure whose name is today emblazoned
on the anthropology department build
Ishi was soon installed at the univer
sity’s anthropology museum in San
Francisco. There, according to a 1961
book written by Kroeber’s wife,
Theodora, he settled into an odd but
apparently congenial routine. He made
friends with UC researchers, did light
work as assistant to the head janitor and
became a kind of living exhibit, making
spears, bows and arrows as fascinated
visitors watched.
The middle-aged Ishi never told his
name. Anthropologists came up with
Ishi, which means “man” in a local
Indian dialect.
By ail contemporary accounts, Ism
was happy in his life at the university.
But civilization and alien germs
proved too much for him. He died in
1916 of what doctors believed was
Researchers knew Ishi did not want
to be autopsied. He had once wandered
into a hospital dissection room and been
horrified, believing bodies should
quickly be burned to release the soul.
Kroeber, who was in New York
when Ishi died, wrote a letter ordering
that Ishi’s body should be cremated. “If
there is any talk about the interests of
science, say for me that science can go
to hell,” he declared.
Unfortunately, others couldn’t resist
the chance. Ishi’s body was autopsied,
the brain removed.
For years, the whereabouts of Ishi’s
brain was a mystery. In 1997 the Butte
County committee began trying to
locate Ishi’s remains for proper burial in
his tribal homeland near Mount Lassen.
A separate investigation started by
the UC-San Francisco discovered that
Kroeber, despite written objections to
an autopsy, had sent the brain to the
The findings prompted some soul
UC-Berkeley anthropology profes
sors called the affair “a troubled chapter
of our history” and acknowledged “our
department’s role in what happened to
Ishi, a man who had already lost all that
was dear to him.”
Smithsonian spokesman Randall
Kroner says the museum won’t be hur
ried into abandoning its process.
“We owe it to the individual tribal
representatives and we owe it to the
American people because this specimen
is part of the national collection,” he
says. “In a sense it already belongs to
not only the tribal representatives but all
But others say the saga of Ishi has
gone on too long.
“We shouldn’t get too righteous
given the considerable defilement that
occurred, perhaps inadvertently, per
haps intentionally, over 83 years,”
Johnston says.
Set into a glassed-in niche, the pot
holding Ishi’s cremated remains is a rus
tic contrast to the ornate bronzed and
engraved containers favored by most of
the residents of the Olivet Memorial
Park Columbarium.
Whether Ishi’s ashes stay here is
unclear. Angle wants to reclaim Ishi’s
ashes as well as his brain, a venture
Johnston is exploring.
Johnston believes it’s time
California owned up to its past.
“The romanticization of the Old
West and the Gold Rush era ignores the
brutal reality that Indians were forced
from their homelands and often killed,”
he says.
“For a cemetery, a university, a
museum or a government to stand on
Western protocol as a way to evade the
rightful return of the heritage of Indians
to their descendants is a wrong that
should not be allowed to stand.”
Safety walk
scheduled for
From staff reports
Students, faculty members
and staff who have concerns
about campus safety may want to
get up a bit earlier than usual this
The Police Advisory
Committee, the Chancellor’s
Safety Committee, and the
Parking Advisory Committee, in
cooperation with UNL Police,
Parking, Landscape Services and
Maintenance and Facilities will
sponsor a safety walk beginning
at 4 a.m. Saturday.
UNL Police Sgt. Bill
Manning said the group will
meet at the parking garage,
where participants can park.
“The hope is that people
come to us with areas of con
cern,” he said.
Participants will explore gen
eral lighting, shrubbery and other
concerns that affect the percep
tion of campus safety, he said.
Anyone who wants to attend
should e-mail Manning at wman, he said. Those
who e-mail can also include spe
cific areas they are concerned
about, he said, so bus routes can
be planned.
Study links lesbianism
with inner-ear emissions
Gays concerned with effects on attitudes
Daily Texan
University of Texas-Austin
AUSTIN, Texas (U-Wire) - A
study performed by a University of
Texas-Austin researcher suggests
that sexual preference in females may
be linked to the tone of inner-ear
Dennis McFadden, who has stud
ied inner-ear behavior in female sub
jects for the past year, measured
spontaneous otoacoustic emissions
(SOAEs), weak pure tones emitted by
the human ear.
Tones produced in homosexual
women’s inner ears he studied were
weaker in signal and less numerous
than those of the heterosexual women
studied. The homosexual women
exhibited tones similar to those of
male test subjects.
“The most plausible explanation
is that the inner ears of the non-het
erosexual women were partially mas
culinized at some time in develop
ment,” said McFadden. “Possibly, at
the same time that whatever brain
structures are responsible for sexual
orientation were also masculinized.”
Similar research has been going
on for more than 100 years.
In 1899, German researcher
Magnus Hirschfeld suggested homo
sexuality was biological in nature and
began the gay civil rights movement
on those grounds.
More recently, in 1991, Simon
LeVay, author of “The Sexual Brain ”
based biological claims for sexual
orientation on the differences in brain
structure of heterosexual and homo
sexual male corpses.
In 1993, Dean Hamer, author of
“The Science of Desire,” discovered
the purported “gay gene.” Hamer’s
study searched 40 pairs of homosexu
al brothers for five genetic markers.
He found that 33 pairs shared the
Supporters of genetic determina
tion hailed the study as proof. Hamer,
however, was cautious in agreeing.
He felt that the genes played some
role in 5 percent to 30 percent of gay
“From twin studies, we already
know that half or more of the vari
ability in sexual orientation is not
inherited,” Hamer said. “Our studies
try to pinpoint the genetic factors ...
not negate the psychological ones.”
Despite these studies, the Family
Research Council denounces claims
of biological homosexuality.
Yvette Cantu, FRC policy ana
lyst, said she chose to become hetero
sexual and feels gays and lesbians
have the same opportunity.
“It took me three years to over
come sexuality,” Cantu said. “It’s dif
ficult to imagine a more self-destruc
tive behavior than homosexuality - I
never regretted my decision to leave
the lifestyle.”
McFadden’s inner-ear study also
raises questions concerning male
versus female homosexuality. Unlike
females, male heterosexuals and
homosexuals exhibit no inner-ear dif
McFadden suggests there may be
basic differences in the process
through which a male or female sexu
al preference is determined.
McFadden’s study is a double
edged sword, supporting biological
origins for sexuality, but raising the
specter of genetic policing. He
explained that SOAEs aren’t a diag- '
nostic tool to determine sexual pref
erence, but allowed that scientific
developments could make tests pos
“There are potential dangers sur
rounding (the study)... concerning
civil rights, genetic testing and the
potential for abuse,” said Julia
Massimind, a member of Texas’
Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Law
Students Association.
Some fear the potential for state
sponsored tests.
“Testing sexuality is almost like
trying to get to the root of the prob
lem,” said Tree Marsoobian, founder
and president of She Says, a student
group for lesbian and bisexual
Marsoobian added that gay-test
ing could complicate certain legal
issues, such as the gay-adoption bill.
“People say, ‘If I was gay I’d be
outraged,”’ she said. “Well, you’re
human, and you should be outraged.”
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