Maria Pearson

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Maria Darlene Pearson
Hai-Mecha Eunka (lit. "Running Moccasins"), Darlene Elvira Drappeaux
Yankton Dakota activist leader
Personal details
Born (1932-07-12)July 12, 1932
Springfield, South Dakota
Died May 23, 2003(2003-05-23) (aged 70)
Ames, Iowa
Spouse(s) John Pearson, m. 1969
Relations 21 grandchildren, 15 great grandchildren
Children Robert, Michael, Eldon, Ronald, Richard, and Darlene
Known for "The Founding Mother of the modern Indian repatriation movement"

Maria Darlene Pearson or Hai-Mecha Eunka (lit. "Running Moccasins") (July 12, 1932 – May 23, 2003) was a Yankton Dakota activist who successfully challenged the legal treatment of Native American human remains. She was one of the primary catalysts for the creation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Her actions led to her being called "the Founding Mother of the modern Indian repatriation movement" and "the Rosa Parks of NAGPRA".[1]

Activist for repatriation of Native American human remains[edit]

In the early 1970s she was appalled that the skeletal remains of Native Americans were treated differently from white remains. Her husband, an engineer with the Iowa Department of Transportation, told her that both Native American and white remains were uncovered during road construction in Glenwood, Iowa. While the remains of 26 white burials were quickly reburied, the remains of a Native American mother and child were sent to a lab for study instead. Pearson protested to Gov. Robert D. Ray, finally gaining an audience with him after sitting outside his office in traditional attire. "You can give me back my people's bones and you can quit digging them up" she responded when the governor asked what he could do for her. The ensuing controversy led to the passage of the Iowa Burials Protection Act of 1976, the first legislative act in the U.S. that specifically protected Native American remains. Emboldened by her success, Pearson went on to lobby national leaders, and was one of the catalysts for the creation of NAGPRA.[2][1] Pearson was featured in the 1995 BBC documentary Bones of Contention.[3]


Born in Springfield, South Dakota as Darlene Elvira Drappeaux, she was given the Yankton name Hai-Mecha Eunka, which means "Running Moccasins". Maria was born on July 12, 1932. She married John Pearson in 1969, and spent most of her adult life in Iowa. Pearson had six children: Robert, Michael, Eldon, Ronald, Richard, and Darlene and 21 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. Pearson died in Ames, Iowa.[4]


  1. ^ a b Gradwohl, D. M.; J.B. Thomson; M.J. Perry (2005). Still Running: A Tribute to Maria Pearson, Yankton Sioux. Special issue of the Journal of the Iowa Archeological Society. 52. Iowa City: Iowa Archeological Society. 
  2. ^ Peason, Maria D. (2000). "Give Me Back My People's Bones: Repatriation and Reburial of American Indian Skeletal Remains in Iowa". In G. Bataille; D.M. Gradwohl; C.L.P. Silet. Perspectives on American Indians in Iowa- An Expanded Edition. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. pp. 131–141. 
  3. ^ "Bones of Contention". British Broadcasting Corp. 1995. Retrieved 1 December 2009. 
  4. ^ "Maria Pearson". Ames Historical Society. Retrieved 1 December 2009. 

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