Friday, July 22, 2011

Contesting Scientists' Narrations of NAGPRA's Legislative History

Clayton W. Dumont, Jr., "Contesting Scientists' Narrations of NAGPRA's Legislative History: Rule 10.11 and the Recovery of "Culturally Unidentifiable" Ancestors"

May 14, 2010, marked a significant victory in the centuries-long struggle of Native peoples to protect our dead and their funerary objects from the "collecting" of generations of scientists. Nearly twenty years after being mandated by the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), the final rule implementing and governing the "Disposition of Culturally Unidentifiable Human Remains" was established.

Although far from perfect, the final rule codified in section 10.11 requires federally funded institutions, which together continue to hold approximately 120,000 deceased Native Americans, to "initiate consultation" for the purpose of producing an "offer to transfer control of the human remains to Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations." These museums and agencies have ninety days to respond to tribes and Hawaiian organizations requesting consultation. Should they receive no requests, the museums, universities, and agencies "must initiate consultation" with tribes and Hawaiian organizations from whose tribal and aboriginal lands the bodies and funerary objects were removed. The new rule leaves little doubt that the National NAGPRA Program and the secretary of the interior view the purpose of the NAGPRA legislation as the return of Native dead to Native peoples.

Given that these deceased relatives, designated by scientists and museum officials as "culturally unidentifiable," total approximately three times the number of ancestors that they have returned, or agreed to return, to their closest living descendants thus far, it is not surprising that many prominent archaeologists, physical anthropologists, and museum personnel vehemently oppose the new rule. Indeed, the leaderships of their largest professional organizations have published scathing denouncements of section 10.11....

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