Via Native News Online, October 13, 2022
“Today, the Federal Register published a proposed rule to rewrite the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in order to expedite and simplify the process for tribal nations seeking their relatives’ return.
Passed by Congress in 1990, NAGPRA is a human rights law that legally compels museums and federal institutions that possess Native American human remains and associated funerary objects to catalog and return those ancestors and belongings within five years.
In a panel discussion on Wednesday at the AAIA repatriation conference, O’Brien outlined the three key changes that tribal nations have called for:
- Shifting the onus from tribal nations to museums to initiate consultation. “There is a burden on the Indian tribes and [Native Hawaiian Organizations] to start the process,” O’Brien said. “Museums or federal agencies don’t have to do anything until a tribe makes a request.”
- The proposed regulation would eliminate the designation ‘culturally unidentifiable” to describe human remains and their associated funerary objects when cultural affiliation cannot be determined. “That term alone can inhibit and prevent repatriation,” O’Brien said.
- The proposed changes would also require that museums repatriate all associated funerary objects along with the ancestor they were buried with. As the law currently stands, museums can retain funerary objects. Shannon Martin (Ojibwe & Pottawatomi), who spoke on the AAIA conference panel with O’Brien, said her first repatriation of 98 ancestors from Harvard’s Peabody museum in 2016 was a two-year process, but the toughest part was that the Peabody refused to return the associated funerary objects. Those sacred objects remain with the museum today, Martin said.”