[U]nder the North American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) — a well-meaning law passed in 1990 — tribes can lay claim to cultural objects and human remains locked away in federally funded museums or unearthed on federal land. In order to do so, they must prove a reasonable connection between themselves and the objects they wish to obtain.While this is technically archaeology, shouldn't the AHA be interested? Where's their editorial arguing for safeguarding the profession and ensuring that we have timely access to items of the historical record (like Executive Orders that lengthen the duration of sealed Presidential records)? Would there be outrage if a bunch of Northern Europeans started putting a halt to bog-people autopsies?
When Kennewick Man came to light, a coalition of tribes in the Pacific Northwest demanded the remains under the provisions of NAGPRA. They said they wished to bury the bones, making further study impossible. The Army Corps of Engineers, which has jurisdiction over Kennewick Man, took steps to comply. But then a group of prominent scientists sued. In 2004, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the scientists, pointing out that the modern tribes had failed to demonstrate an adequate link between themselves and the skeleton of a person who died more than nine millennia ago.
So the tribes turned to Congress. Two years ago, Sen. John McCain proposed altering NAGPRA’s definition of “Native American” from “of, or relating to, a tribe, people, or culture that is indigenous to the United States.” The new language would add two words: “...is, or was, indigenous...” McCain’s efforts failed, in part because of public objections. But now the change has slipped through in a bill of “technical corrections” that the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee has just approved.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
National Review editorializes: