An offhand comment made by "Maze Runner" actor Dylan O'Brien about filching Native American artifacts from a New Mexico ranch where a movie was being filmed has stung advocates who have long struggled to protect tribal items and remains.
O'Brien, 24, said in a recent interview that he had fallen ill during the shoot for 20th Century Fox's "The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials" and implied that a Native American curse had taken revenge on cast members who took objects.
The remark has prompted an online petition with 47,000 people calling for the return of any stolen objects from the ranch where the film was shot last year.
"It brings to mind for me that our graves that were robbed for the objects that were in them. That kind of desecration and direct continuing today is not deniable or tolerable," Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, told Reuters on Wednesday.
O'Brien's publicist did not return a request for comment.
In an interview last month on U.S. syndicated morning talk show "Live with Kelly and Michael," O'Brien said he and fellow "Scorch Trials" cast members took items from the historic location where they filmed last winter.
"It was this ancient Indian burial ground, I guess," he said. "They were very strict about littering and don't take any artifacts like rocks, skulls — anything like that. And everyone just takes stuff, you know, obviously."
The site in question is the 22,000-acre Diamond Tail Ranch in the high desert between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It is not home to any known Indian burial grounds, property manager Roch Hart told Reuters, and he has not been able to detect missing items.
Hart said artifacts at Diamond Tail include pottery shards and chippings of rock tools. While he has not been able to pinpoint specific tribes as the owners, he estimates that items date from the years 800 to 1700.
"Whether it be a thousand-dollar pot that was found, or a pottery shard ... we consider it all sacred," he said.
The ranch has hosted about 10 films in the past three years, including “Frontera” starring Ed Harris. If the theft allegations prove true, Hart said he will rethink plans.
20th Century Fox said Wednesday it was doing a "thorough investigation."
"If any artifacts were mishandled or removed from the location, we will do everything to ensure they are restored," the studio said in a statement.
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Leslie Adler)
Dylan O’Brien was in the midst of his daytime talk show shtick on “Kelly and Michael” last month, and things were going pretty well.
It was time for the key moment: A little behind-the-scenes story about the movie the 24-year-old actor was there to promote, “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.”
Co-host Michael Strahan made it easy, asking O’Brien to tell his fans why so many cast members suddenly became ill during filming.
They were working in the mountains of Albuquerque, on an ancient Native American burial ground that was rarely used as the scene of Hollywood films, O’Brien said.
“They said basically, ‘Don’t take anything and respect the grounds,’ ” O’Brien said. “They were very strict about littering — and don’t take any artifacts, rocks, skulls anything like that.”
Deadpan, he added: “And everyone just takes stuff, obviously.”
LOL. Chuckles. Funny, right?
The theft was blamed for a spate of mysterious illnesses among cast members: Fevers, appendix problems, a broken ankle. It’s a story that “Maze Runner” director Wes Ball and other cast members have told before.
The set was “haunted,” they said.
“Okay,” Kelly Ripa said. “Didn’t you guys see that episode of ‘The Brady Bunch?’ Did ‘The Brady Bunch’ teach you nothing?”
O’Brien cracked up and the studio audience followed suit.
“That is so funny!” he said. “They had to send me home two nights in a row early because I had a fever.”
It took a while — weeks, actually — but people are finally taking notice of O’Brien’s casual admission that, despite being warned against it, he and other cast members took artifacts from a Native American burial site.
Now, more than 47,000 petitioners have called for an apology.
“The Native Americans from that area, the Pueblo people, have spoken out, angered and disrespected,” the petition says. “While O’Brien plays it for laughs, talking about bringing a Native American curse on the cast, his flip treatment of the crew’s actions is outrageous.”
The petition continues: “O’Brien, the film’s director and other crew members involved need to apologize to Pueblo tribal leaders for their behavior and return any artifacts they removed from the site.”
The petition was started by one of O’Brien’s many fans, a teen who was appalled by the blatant disrespect toward Native Americans.
“I wanted to cut him slack because I am such a fan of his, but ignoring a problem like this just feeds into the racism that Native Americans already deal with,” Maeve Cunningham told the Santa Fe New Mexican. “I wanted something done about it. I thought, ‘Why not start a petition?’”
The fact that actors got sick after taking artifacts from the Diamond Tail Ranch in New Mexico probably had nothing to do with a curse. And that very suggestion, said Cunningham, is “just more mocking of Native American culture.”
If anything, said Maxine McBrinn, curator of archaeology at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in New Mexico, they were victims of their guilty conscience.
“I do not think that there are curses, but I do think there are guilty consciences,” McBrinn told the Santa Fe New Mexican. “People who do that often know they have done something wrong, and our conscience is designed to keep us from doing bad things.”
“I suspect that if you know you have done something wrong and haven’t moved to make it right, then you probably are not in the best possible shape you can be in,” she added.