Monday, December 03, 2007

NAGPRA Threatened?

According to, and other science news websites, the Dept. of the Interior has drafted new regulations that "would destroy the use of cultural affiliation as the principle for repatriation decisions."

Some Background:
NAGPRA stands for Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. NAGPRA is a federal law passed in 1990 that requires all museums and institutions receiving federal funds to return human remains and cultural items from graves to tribes or tribal descendents. It also protects gravesites or suspected gravesites from digs--either archaeological or accidental.

This 1997 pictures shows NAGPRA in action. The box contains the rattle of a Sioux medicine man, Elk Head. The rattle is being returned to a descendent of Elk Head by the South Dakota State Historical Society Museum.

The National Park Service has a great chart explaining what NAGPRA covers.

The Dept of the Interior has a website on NAGPRA too, which is ironic because that Department now wants to change the rules.

“The Department’s proposed regulations have no basis in law or science and reflect an attempt to impermissibly legislate in a manner not prescribed by Congress. The adoption of the regulations as they stand would force the NAGPRA process back to square one,” said Dean Snow, who is president of the Society of American Archaeologists. His group says that the DoI doesn't have the authority to implement this change, which is flawed.

Here are the Federal Register summaries of the changes in pdf form. The SAA claims these changes destroy the use of cultural affiliation as the guide for who gets what artefacts.

I don't pretend to understand it, but NAGPRA was a hard-fought and much-needed law. Mucking it up is not wise.

1 comment:

Peter N. Jones said...

The proposed changes to NAGPRA are really about the continuing battle over who owns the past: Museums and archaeologists or Native Americans. What I don't get is that to determine whether something is Native American, it has to be studied anyway, so this is all just political jockying. For more, read the Indigenous Issues Today post on the topic. Gives another view than the standard media one.