Anthropology NAGPRA and Repatriation of Native American Human Remains and Cultural Objects
by
Russell Thornton, Jamie Geronimo Vela
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0236

Introduction

Hundreds of thousands—some say 1 million—Native American skeletal remains are held in institutions around the world. Probably half are in the United States. How many tribal objects are held is unknown, but the number is in the many millions. Hundreds of remains and thousands of objects are uncovered every year in the United States, mostly by construction projects. That Native American tribes and individuals have been disenfranchised from ancestral remains and important tribal objects is a terrible facet of American history; it is also of great discomfort to Native Americans. The situation is exacerbated as some remains and objects are from atrocities in American Indian history, e.g., the 1890 Wounded Knee and 1864 Sand Creek Massacres. Many objects are symbolic and sacred, necessary in Native American ceremonies and rituals. On occasion, repatriation requests were granted by museums; but Native Americans were virtually at their mercy. Native Americans lobbied for the eventual passage of two federal laws preventing further disenfranchisement from remains and objects, and requiring their repatriation. In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed. It provided legal protection to Native American and Native Hawaiian graves. It also mandated repatriations to lineal descendants or federally recognized tribes of culturally affiliated human remains, funerary objects (objects associated with burials), objects of cultural patrimony, and sacred objects held in institutions receiving federal funding. A year earlier, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) Act of 1989 had passed. It called for only the return of human remains and funerary objects held at the Smithsonian. (Given this act, the Smithsonian was excluded from NAGPRA; the NMAI Act was amended in 1996 to include objects of cultural patrimony and sacred objects.) State laws at this time were limited in scope or not applicable, and mostly referred to burials. The most well-known are Iowa’s Burial Protection Act of 1976, and Nebraska’s Unmarked Human Burial Site and Skeletal Remains Protection Act of 1989. Subsequent to NAGPRA, repatriation state laws were enacted, e.g., California developed a law along the lines of NAGPRA. Most relevant institutions now have created repatriation policies in line with, and sometimes going beyond, NAGPRA and state laws. While causation is hard to ascertain, these developments—especially NAGPRA—have influenced international repatriation, either within or between countries. Too, international events have influenced the United States, and the United States has repatriated to other countries, and they to the United States.

General Overviews

Overviews are found in Thornton 1992, Thornton 1998, Fine-Dare 2002, McKeown 2008, and Echo-Hawk 2002. They are focused on NAGPRA but may include the Smithsonian. It has become popular to overview and assess NAGPRA at certain points: Museum News provides a series of interviews ten years after the passage of NAGPRA, and Daehnke and Lonetree 2011 provides a twenty-year assessment, while Cryne 2009 provides a twenty-five-year one. Along these lines, Colwell-Chanthaphonh 2012 publishes the results of a survey about NAGPRA, its implementation, and problems as viewed in “Indian Country.”

Anthologies

General anthologies became popular around ten years after the passage of NAGPRA. Most topics have remained over the decades; however, particular attention has led to some lessening of specific concerns, e.g., unaffiliated remains. Mihesuah 2000 and Bray 2001 consider topics at a relatively early date; more recent ones are in Killion 2008 and Chari and Lavallee 2013.

  • Bray, T. L., ed. 2001. The future of the past: Archaeologists, Native Americans, and repatriation. New York: Garland.

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    General view of repatriation that covers complex and controversial topics. Chapter authors include scholars, museologists, legalists, and Native Americans. One of the first anthologies published, it remains useful.

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  • Chari, S., and J. M. N. Lavallee, eds. 2013. Accomplishing NAGPRA: Perspectives on the intent, impact, and future of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Corvallis: Oregon State Univ. Press.

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    Consideration of topics twenty years after NAGPRA by practitioners with day-to-day repatriation experience on the local, regional, and national levels. Included are chapters on Native Hawaiians and non-federally recognized tribes. Native Hawaiians have experienced difficulties in repatriations; non-federally recognized tribes continue to be virtually excluded from repatriation under NAGPRA.

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  • Killion, T. W., ed. 2008. Opening archaeology: Repatriation’s impact on contemporary research and practice. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press.

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    Writings on interactions of anthropologists with Native Americans from meetings under the auspices of the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The writings strongly urge cooperation between Native Americans and other groups with repatriation interests.

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  • Mihesuah, D. R., ed. 2000. The repatriation reader: Who owns American Indian remains. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

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    Chapters are written by a broad spectrum of individuals, in and outside the academy and museums; diverse views are presented. Chapters cover history, contemporary issues, laws and ethics, and resolution.

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Special Journal Issues

On occasion, journals in American Indian studies or law have published special issues on repatriation; they may be considered anthologies. The American Indian Culture and Research Journal and Arizona State Law Journal published special issues a few years after NAGPRA, as did the American Indian Quarterly. Another special issue of the Arizona State Law Journal was about twenty years after.

  • Mihesuah, D. A., ed. 1996. Special issue: Repatriation: An interdisciplinary dialogue. American Indian Quarterly 20.2: 153–308.

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    Consideration of various topics, including the past collection of human remains and objects. As the title indicates, scholars from various disciplines are included. The Pawnee Nation, the Zuni Pueblo, and the Kwakiutl (of British Columbia, Canada) are discussed in separate chapters. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Echo-Hawk, W., ed. 1992. Special issue: Repatriation of American Indian remains. American Indian Culture and Research Journal 16.2.

    DOI: 10.17953/aicr.16.2.q702t727143g7970Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on a conference, several papers pertain to the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and their determined quest to rebury the remains of their ancestors. They have been very successful in this regard.

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  • Special issue: Repatriation symposium. 2012. Arizona State Law Journal 44.2.

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    The special issue is based on a 2010 conference titled “Repatriation at Twenty: A Gathering of Native Self-Determination Human Rights,” held at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Papers are by prominent repatriation scholars, lawyers, practitioners, and activists. Included is a paper of international repatriation, and one on Apache conception of communal ownership and the illegal sale of important Apache objects.

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  • Special issue: Symposium: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 and state repatriation-related legislation. 1992. Arizona State Law Journal 24.1.

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    Based on a symposium at Arizona State University, the special issue is a broad consideration of NAGPRA. It includes implications for Native Americans, museums, and states and state law. A survey of relevant state statutes is provided as are six appendixes. Three forwards to the issue are written by Daniel K. Inouye, John McCain, and Michael J. Fox. It is a highly recommended early examination of NAGPRA.

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Reference Works and Bibliographies

The actual NMAI Act of 1989 and NAGPRA of 1990 are basic references, with linkages provided here (see also US Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2018 under International Repatriation: Overviews, US Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2011 under Repatriation at the Smithsonian: Information, US Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2010 under Repatriation under NAGPRA: Information, and American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) of 1978 under Identity and Religion). Mending the Circle is a guide for tribal requests for the return of important ritual objects. Carter 1999 is a bibliography of repatriation, whereas Smith 2012 is an annotated bibliography.

Organizations

The following organizations relate to repatriation, and many were involved in formulating NAGPRA and the NMAI Act. Many publish their own journals; most have newsletters and/or magazines. Several are a good source of past and current information via their websites, newsletters, or magazines; some publish books.

Native Advocate Organizations

The AAIA, NCAI, and NARF are organizations that remain particularly active in repatriation. AIM was active in the early years of the repatriation movement, as was AIAD/IITC, Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai‘i Nei (Group Caring for the Ancestors of Hawai‘i), and AIRRF.

Professional Associations

The AAM, AAA, and SAA were involved in the formation of repatriation legislation, and continue their interests in repatriation. The AAPA demonstrated early interest in the repatriation of human remains. The WAC maintains repatriation as a major interest in its worldwide efforts to make archaeology relevant to Indigenous people.

Pre-NAGPRA and NMAI Act

There was an intense struggle over repatriation during the 1970s and 1980s. Maria Peason (a.k.a. Hai-Mecha Eunka, Running Moccasins) is often called the “mother of the repatriation movement,” as attested in the tribute Gradwohl, et al. 2005. Edwards 2015 studies repatriation as a grassroots social movement, while McKeown 2014 pictures the national context preceding NAGPRA and the NMAI Act. (See also Peregoy 1992, Price 1991, and Yalung and Wala 1992 under State Laws.) The authors of Ubelaker and Guttenplan Grant 1989, both at the Smithsonian, discuss issues with the repatriation of human remains; it is especially important because the repatriation movement of the mid- to late 1980s targeted NMNH’s large number of Native American human remains. Zimmerman 2014 nicely simplifies the complexities of repatriation.

Cases

Fenton 1989 covers a return of wampum belts to Canada, with subsequent comments by Tooker 1998 pointing to a possible repatriation error. Leonard and Feezor-Stewart 1991 details internal conflict over repatriation within a university department. Merrill, et al. 1993 is an important study of curatorial and repatriation issues. Ridington and Hastings (In’aska) 1997 tells the history of a sacred pole, eventually repatriated from a museum.

  • Fenton, W. N. 1989. Return of eleven wampum belts to the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy on Grande River, Canada. Ethnohistory 36:392–410.

    DOI: 10.2307/482654Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of the 1988 return of eleven wampum belts to the Six Nations Confederacy on the Grande River in Canada. They were repatriated to the Iroquois from the Heye Museum of the American Indian in New York City.

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  • Leonard, B. L., and B. Feezor-Stewart. 1991. Human remains at UCLA: A history of divergent views and attempted compromise concerning American Indian bones. Anthropology UCLA 18.1: 32–69.

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    An intriguing portrayal of conflicts in the UCLA Department of Anthropology over the repatriation of Native American human remains. The portrayal places the Department’s internal conflicts within the broader context of events in the University of California system, the state of California, selected American Indian tribes, and the United States as a whole.

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  • Merrill, W., E. Ladd, T. Ferguson, et al. 1993. The return of the Ahayu: da: Lessons for repatriation from Zuni Pueblo and the Smithsonian Institution (with comments and replies). Current Anthropology 34.5: 523–567.

    DOI: 10.1086/204205Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examination of the 1987 return of two Ahayu: da (“War Gods”) returned to the Zuni Pueblo from the Smithsonian. It illustrates the complexity of some repatriations. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Ridington, R., and D. Hastings (In’aska). 1997. Blessing for a long time: The sacred pole of the Omaha. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

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    Blending oral traditions, ethnology, and ethnohistory, the authors tell the story of Omaha tribal efforts to retrieve their sacred pole Umon’hon’ti from Harvard’s Peabody Museum, taken from them by Alice Fletcher. They eventually succeeded; the pole was returned in 1989. The Sacred White Buffalo Hide (Tethon’ha) is also discussed. It was part of the Heye collection that became the nucleus of the NMAI; it, along with its pipe, was repatriated to the Omaha in 1991.

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  • Tooker, E. 1998. A note on the return of eleven wampum belts to the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy on Grande River, Canada. Ethnohistory 4.2: 219–236.

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    Tooker suggests that the wampum belts returned to the Iroquois in 1988, as described by Fenton 1989, may not have been the correct ones.

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Repatriation at the Smithsonian

Under the NMAI Act, Smithsonian has now repatriated 4,300 sets of human remains, out of almost 6,000 offered for repatriation; 100,000 funerary objects (mostly beads and other small objects), out of about 225,000 offered; and most of the 1,400 objects of cultural patrimony and/or sacred objects offered for repatriation. This is in addition to repatriations under NAGPRA. However, many have thought the Smithsonian process too slow.

Information

The NMNH and NMAI websites provide information on historical and contemporary repatriation activities. (Annual reports to the Smithsonian are made jointly.) Reports and other documents regarding the Smithsonian’s Native American Repatriation Review Committee (RRC) are available from Repatriation Committee Reports submitted to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (SI), 1991–2012. US Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2011 is a criticism of these activities.

Cases

Cases may be located on the websites of the NMNH and the NMAI. Considerations of two important NMNH repatriations are Bray and Killion 1994, a detailed coverage of a repatriation to Alaska, and Starn 2004, a history of Ishi and the eventual repatriation of his brain.

  • Bray, T. L., and T. W. Killion, eds. 1994. Reckoning with the dead: The Larsen Bay repatriation and the Smithsonian Institution. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

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    Examination by scholars, museum personnel, and legal experts of a 1991 repatriation of 756 sets of Yu’pik human remains from the NMNH to Larsen Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska, under the NMAI Act. The publication is derived from a 1992 symposium at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association.

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  • Starn, O. 2004. Ishi’s brain: In search of America’s last wild Indian. New York: W. W. Norton.

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    An extensive examination of Ishi and the circumstances leading to the “gift” of his brain from the University of California to the Smithsonian. His brain was jointly repatriated in 1999 to two California Indian groups in a ceremony at the NMNH, about which Starn provides scant discussion. Following repatriation, Ishi’s brain was buried in the California wilderness, along with his ashes.

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Repatriation under NAGPRA

To date, museums, government agencies, and other organizations subject to NAGPRA have returned human remains of more than 50,500 individuals; almost 1,500,000 funerary objects (mostly beads and other small objects), 220,000 of which were associated directly with human remains (defined in NAGPRA as “associated funerary objects”); virtually 5,000 sacred objects; more than 8,000 objects of cultural patrimony; and more than 1,600 objects considered both sacred and of cultural patrimony. The National Park Service (NPS), an agency of the US government within the Department of the Interior, administers NAGPRA.

Information

The National Park Service NAGPRA website devotes a website to NAGPRA. Most museums also have websites discussing repatriation policies, procedures, and cases. US Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2010 criticizes the repatriation process of eight federal agencies. The Federal Register provides a wealth of information on NAGPRA in general and also on specific repatriations, since the law requires publication of a notice of intent for specific repatriations.

Cases

Kennewick Man was a dominant repatriation case until it was resolved in 2017, and is presented under a subheading. The Spirit Lake mummy case was also controversial until it was recently decided, as Callaway 2016 indicates. Colwell 2017 covers four cases at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Bruchac 2018 (cited under Implementation Issues: Cases) details several considerations related to the repatriation of Iroquoian wampum belts. Other cases are Spude and Scott 2013 and Threedy 2009. Vela 2017 discusses the controversy about the remains of Geronimo, and Thomas 2015 considers the remains of Jim Thorpe.

  • Callaway, E. 2016. North America’s oldest mummy returned to US tribe after genome sequencing. Nature 540 (8 December 2016): 178–179.

    DOI: 10.1038/540178aSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The Spirit Cave mummy is a 10,600-year-old human skeleton unearthed in 1940 in a cave in northeast Nevada. Callaway provides a brief account of the long controversy surrounding it, along with its eventual repatriation to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe in 2016.

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  • Colwell, C. 2017. Plundered skulls and stolen spirits: Inside the fight to reclaim Native America’s culture. Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226299044.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A popularly written, first-hand account of repatriation issues confronted by the author as senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. The core revolves around four cases: a Zuni War God; a scalp from the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre; a ceremonial robe; and Calusa Indian remains. The author traces the collection, curation, and repatriation of the objects and remains.

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  • Spude, C., and D. Scott. 2013. NAGPRA and historical research: Reevaluation of a multiple burial from Fort Union National Monument, New Mexico. Historical Archaeology 47.4: 121–136.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF03377128Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Four sets of remains from an 1860 burial at Fort Union National Monument, New Mexico, are discussed. Likely there was an erroneous repatriation of at least one non-Indian to the Jicarilla Apache and Ute Mountain Ute. Proper consideration of cultural affiliation would have prevented this, it is asserted. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Thomas, M. 2015. From running touchdowns to running away with the casket: Thorpe v. Borough of Jim Thorpe. Journal of Art, Technology & Intellectual Property Law 26.1: 55–73.

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    Discussion of the Thorpe v. Borough of Jim Thorpe Supreme Court case. It was argued—using the definition of a museum and NAGPRA’s lineal descent clause—that the famous Jim Thorpe’s remains should be repatriated from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma for reburial. The Court ruled the argument was “absurd” and not congruent with the intent of NAGPRA. (The actual court case Thorpe v. Borough of Thorpe may be found online.)

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  • Threedy, D. L. 2009. Claiming the shields: Law, anthropology, and the role of storytelling in a NAGPRA repatriation case study. Journal of Land, Resources & Environmental Law 29.1: 91–119.

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    A study of three leather shields claimed by different Native American groups; it emphasizes differences between legal and anthropological assessments of cultural affiliation. The use of storytelling to assess cultural affiliation is considered.

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  • Vela, J. G. 2017. Returning Geronimo to his homeland: The application of NAGPRA and broken treaties to the case of Geronimo’s repatriation. American Journal of Indigenous Studies 1.2: SI78–SI93.

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    Historiography, document analysis, and scholarly literature assess the great Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo (b. 1829–d. 1909) and posthumous history of his remains, along with their current status.

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Kennewick Man

The most well-known repatriation controversy surrounds the approximately 9,000-year-old Kennewick Man (a.k.a. “The Ancient One”) discovered in eastern Washington on the banks of the Columbia River, as analyzed in Chatters 2000. The controversy involved lawsuits between Indian tribes and physical anthropologists, including the well-known Bonnichsen v. United States. Scientific evidence and the law dominated the repatriation of Kennewick Man, as shown in Owsley and Jantz 2014 and Bruning 2006 (see also Smith 2016 under Implementation Issues: Cases). Gnome analysis findings reported in Rasmussen, et al. 2015 paved the way for the 2017 repatriation to a coalition including the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Nez Perce Tribe, Umatilla Tribe, Yakima Nation, and Wanapub Band of Priest Rapids.

  • Bruning, S. 2006. Complex legal legacies: The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, scientific study, and Kennewick Man. American Antiquity 71.3: 501–521.

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    Scientific, cultural, and even ethical concerns and implications arose over the study of Kennewick Man. A result was the largest ongoing lawsuit about NAGPRA, which included the well-known Bonnichsen v. United States. (The case is available online.) Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Chatters, J. C. 2000. The recovery and first analysis of an early Holocene human skeleton from Kennewick, Washington. American Antiquity 65.2: 291–316.

    DOI: 10.2307/2694060Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Article by the first archaeologist to examine the skull after its discovery in 1996, and who subsequently collected the virtually complete skeleton, which became known as Kennewick Man. Details of the discovery and its geographical location and site, including artifacts at the site, are provided. Description and morphological analysis of the skeleton are provided. Chatters’ conclusion about the biological affinity of the skeleton places it closest to Pacific Islanders and the Ainu, not to prehistoric American Indians.

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  • Owsley, D., and R. Jantz, eds. 2014. Kennewick Man: The scientific investigation of an ancient American skeleton. College Station: Texas A & M Univ. Press.

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    The edited book is a detailed analysis of Kennewick Man, his physical characteristics, possible origins, and affinities with other populations. Contributors include physical anthropologists, archaeologists, geologists, and geochemists. The editors are two prominent physical anthropologists.

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  • Rasmussen, M., M. Sikora, A. Albrechtsen, et al. 2015. The ancestry and affiliations of Kennewick Man. Nature 523.7561: 455–458.

    DOI: 10.1038/nature14625Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Paper presenting the genome sequencing that established Kennewick Man to be more closely related to contemporary Native Americans than any other world population. This is contrary to earlier morphological analyses; a revisit of the cranial analyses finds that those data do not relate Kennewick Man to a specific contemporary population.

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Implementation Issues

Early, longstanding, somewhat interrelated repatriation controversies concern the following: one, use of oral traditions as evidence for repatriation; two, culturally unaffiliated human remains; and three, non-federally recognized tribes. However, there is a dearth in the literature of actual, day-to-day problems faced by tribal representatives seeking repatriations. Colwell-Chanthaphonh 2012, listed under General Overviews, reports the results of a survey of tribal repatriation workers.

Oral Traditions

The NAGPRA and the NMAI Act establish oral traditions as a type of evidence that may be used to establish cultural patrimony, as described in Billick 2002 and Riding In, et al. 2004 (see also Hill 2001 under Identity and Religion). It has not been without controversy.

  • Billick, W. 2002. Cultural affiliation and repatriation in the great plains of the United States. Revista de Arqueología Americana 21:89–105.

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    NAGPRA and the NMAI Act require human remains be assessed for cultural affiliation when repatriation is requested. According to the author, this has resulted in more remains being identified as affiliated with specific tribes than were previously listed in museum records. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Riding In, J., C. Seciwa, S. Harjo, and W. Echo-Hawk. 2004. Protecting Native American human remains, burial grounds, and sacred places. Wicazo Sa Review 19.2: 169–183.

    DOI: 10.1353/wic.2004.0022Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Panel discussion of culturally unidentifiable human remains and unclaimed human remains, illustrating among other things that culturally unidentifiable remains are not congruent with Native American traditions. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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Unaffiliated Remains

Perhaps the most controversial repatriation issue has been over culturally unaffiliated remains, as discussed in Dumont 2011 and Marek-Martinez 2008; new guidelines that were eventually established are delineated in the Federal Register (2010).

  • Dumont, C. W., Jr. 2011. Contesting scientists’ narrations of NAGPRA’s legislative history: Rule 10.11 and the recovery of “culturally unidentifiable” ancestors. Wicazo Sa Review 26.1: 5–41.

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    New Rule 10.11 requires institutions to begin consultation with tribes; as such, it seems obvious that a clear objective of NAGPRA—and the Secretary of the Interior—was that Native American remains should be returned, and not remain in institutions defined as culturally unidentifiable. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Federal Register. 2010. Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Regulations for Disposition of Culturally Unidentifiable Human Remains, 15 March.

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    Implementation regulations of NAGPRA expanded to provide for the return of unaffiliated remains to—under certain circumstances—extant tribes located on lands where the remains were initially removed.

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  • Marek-Martinez, O. V. 2008. NAGPRA’s Achilles heel: The disposition of culturally unidentifiable remains. Heritage Management 1.2: 243–259.

    DOI: 10.1179/hma.2008.1.2.3.243Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Overview of cultural affiliation and newly proposed regulations that invited public commentary.

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Non-Federally Recognized Tribes

The legal mandate to repatriate to only federally recognized tribes, as shown in Talbert 2012, has been a problem. Issues are considered in Neller, et al. 2013 and Wilson 1997, which considers California tribes. Regulations for unaffiliated remains now include possible repatriation to non-federally recognized tribes, with approval of NAGPRA’s Review Committee, as discussed on the NPS’s NAGPRA website.

Cases

An important case study covering non-federally recognized tribes and oral traditions is Bruchac 2018; Smith 2016 discusses oral traditions in a legal context.

Knowledge Generated and Restricted

Repatriation has expanded knowledge and improved relationships with Native Americans, contrary to what many think, as variously shown in Dongoske 1996; Kakaliouras 2012; Ousley, et al. 2005; and Raines 1992. However, repatriation has restricted knowledge, as Cholwell 2015 argues, and created conflict within anthropology, as Schillaci and Bustard 2010 argues.

  • Cholwell, C. 2015. Curating secrets: Repatriation, knowledge flows, and museum power structures. Current Anthropology 56 (Supplement 12 [December]): S263–S274.

    DOI: 10.1086/683429Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Paper about Zuni War Gods and Western Apache, especially. It illustrates that one of the unintended effects of NAGPRA has been to reinforce secrecy by museums and museum personnel.

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  • Dongoske, K. E. 1996. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act: A new beginning, not the end, for osteological analysis—a Hopi perspective. In Special issue: Repatriation: An interdisciplinary dialogue. Edited by D. A. Mihesuah. American Indian Quarterly 20.2: 287–296.

    DOI: 10.2307/1185706Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hopi activities surrounding 1,000-plus burial sites at four development projects, which yielded a useful dialogue between the Tribe and archaeologists and anthropologists.

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  • Kakaliouras, A. M. 2012. An anthropology of repatriation: Contemporary physical anthropological and Native American ontologies of practice. Current Anthropology Supplement, The Biological Anthropology of Living Human Populations: World Histories, National Styles, and International Networks 53.S5: S210–S221.

    DOI: 10.086/662331Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discussion of the epistemological disjuncture between physical anthropology and Native Americans, and its probable persistence into the future, despite Native American attempts to change anthropology. The author predicts new theoretical foundations that could lessen the divide.

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  • Ousley, S. D., W. T. Billeck, and R. E. Hollinger. 2005. Federal repatriation legislation and the role of physical anthropology in repatriation. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 48:2–32.

    DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.20354Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    They argue that despite opinions to the contrary, repatriation has not necessarily been full of conflict between Native Americans and anthropologists. Museums and physical anthropology have benefited from the large amount of osteological analysis generated, and Native Americans have benefited through a greater understanding of ancestors resulting from determination of cultural affiliation in repatriation claims. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Raines, J. 1992. One is missing: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act: An overview and analysis. American Indian Law Review 17.2: 639–664.

    DOI: 10.2307/20062568Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discussion of repatriation legislation and history of excavating Native American graves. The author concludes that Native American rights can be protected while scientific and museum interests continue. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Schillaci, M., and W. Bustard. 2010. Controversy and conflict: NAGPRA and the role of biological anthropology in determining cultural affiliation. Political and Legal Anthropology Review 33.2: 352–373.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1555-2934.2010.01118.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A case study in the Southwest of how the law and biological anthropology’s role in the implementing of NAGPRA have created conflict within biological anthropology. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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Digital Repatriation

Digital technology is increasingly important in museum activities, including repatriation. Though sometimes focused on the NMAI and NMNH—Crouch 2010 gives an overview of the NMAI’s digital repatriation project—there are important implications for all museums. Underhill 2006, for example, discusses the creation of protocols for handling Native American archival material, while Milun 2001 illustrates the recent expansion of digitalization in museology and repatriation, along with its problems. Specific cases are important here, too. Cristen 2011 provides a case involving three tribes of the Plateau; Greene and Thornton 2007 is an example of a publication as repatriation. Cases from the Smithsonian are in the 2013 special issue of Museum Anthropology Review edited by Bell, Kim and Turin, including O’Neal 2013.

  • Cristen, K. 2011. Opening archives: Respectful repatriation. The American Archivist 74.1: 185–210.

    DOI: 10.17723/aarc.74.1.4233nv6nv6428521Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assesses advantages and disadvantages of digital technology for Indigenous people. Details a collaborative project between Washington State University and three Plateau tribes: Yakima, Umatilla, and Coeur d’Alene.

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  • Crouch, M. 2010. Digitalization as repatriation? The National Museum of the American Indian’s fourth museum project. Journal of Information Ethics 19.1: 45–56.

    DOI: 10.3172/jie.19.1.45Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An essay on possibilities and problems regarding the NMAI’s Fourth Museum Project, a “museum without walls.” Crouch’s essay focuses on photographic materials and making them available online.

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  • Greene, C., and R. Thornton, eds. 2007. The year the stars fell: Lakota winter counts at the Smithsonian. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

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    Publication of Lakota winter counts at the Smithsonian as repatriation of knowledge important to Native American communities, as the winter counts are not subject to physical repatriation. It was supported by the Smithsonian Native American Repatriation Review Committee (RRC), chaired by Russell Thornton, an editor.

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  • Milun, K. 2001. Keeping-while-giving-back: Computer imaging and Native American repatriation. Political and Legal Anthropology Review 24.2: 39–57.

    DOI: 10.1525/pol.2001.24.2.39Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An examination of the digital recreation of Native American human remains and the dangers of so doing, including the possibility that images may appear in newspapers, etc. This equates, the author points out, with the pre-NAGPRA display of the remains in museums and is counter to the intent of NAGPRA. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • O’Neal, J. R. 2013. Going home: The digital return of films at the National Museum of the American Indian, In After the return: Digital repatriation and the circulation of Indigenous knowledge. Edited by J. A. Bell, K. Christen, and M. Turin. Museum Anthropology Review 7.1–2: 166–184.

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    A discussion of the digital return of early-20th-century films to the Zuni Pueblo; they are from a film series that came to the NMAI through the Heye Foundation and give a glimpse into Zuni lives and culture.

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  • Bell, J. A., K. Christen, and M. Turin. 2013. After the return: Digital repatriation and the circulation of Indigenous knowledge. Museum Anthropology Review 7.1–2.

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    A double issue of the Review containing papers about the varied impacts of digital repatriation on Native people. Papers are based on a 2012 Smithsonian conference at the NMNH drawing together individuals with a variety of interests in and experiences with digital repatriation. The revitalization of Native language and culture is emphasized, as is the creation of new knowledge.

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  • Underhill, K. 2006. Protocols for Native American archival materials—Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona. International Journal of Cultural Property 13.4: 441–442.

    DOI: 10.5860/rbm.7.2.267Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The drafting of protocols by nineteen professionals—fifteen of whom were Native American, First Nation, or Aboriginal—as to how institutions should properly deal with archival materials. (The group is now the First Archivist Circle.) The result was “Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.” Generally, such materials are not encompassed by NAGPRA; however, some have been repatriated.

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Legal and Ethical Concerns

Legal and ethical issues are important in repatriation, especially in earlier years. This is discussed in Björnberg 2015, Deloria 1989, Dumont 2002, Hibbert 1998, Ferris 2003, Peregoy 1992 (cited under State Laws), and Trope and Echo-Hawk 1992. (See also Smith 2016 under Cases and Talbert 2012 under Non-Federally Recognized Tribes.) Some repatriation issues relate to personal property law, as Carpenter, et al. 2009 argues; also Harding 1997. Changing regulations of NAGPRA have attempted to address its shortcomings, as shown in Federal Register (2010) (cited under Implementation Issues: Unaffiliated Remains). Reconciliation is discussed by Colwell-Chanthaphonh 2009.

State Laws

Iowa’s 1976 Burial Protection Act and Nebraska’s 1989 Unmarked Human Burial Site and Skeletal Protection Act are important pre-NAGPRA state laws, as Peregoy 1992 discusses regarding Nebraska (see also Gradwohl, et al. 2005 under Pre-NAGPRA and NMAI Act). Following NAGPRA, states modified or passed laws, some to even exceed NAGPRA. Bender 1992 discusses Arizona legislation at the time of NAGPRA, and Price 1991 provides state laws and federal laws, surveyed by Yalung and Wala 1992. Seidemann 2010 examines state laws two decades after NAGPRA.

  • Bender, P. 1992. 1990 Arizona repatriation legislation. In Special issue: Symposium: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 and state repatriation-related legislation. Arizona State Law Journal 24.1: 391–419.

    DOI: 10.111/j.1548-1379.2010.01098Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Consideration of Sections 844 and 865 of Arizona Revised Statues; 844 refers to repatriations of remains and objects excavated on state land (or in state-controlled agencies), and 865 refers to repatriations of remains and (only) funerary objects on private land. Both provide tribes with repatriation rights based on “affinity,” broadly defined.

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  • Peregoy, R. M. 1992. Nebraska’s landmark repatriation law: A study of cross-cultural conflict and resolution. Edited by Echo-Hawk. In Repatriation of American Indian remains. American Indian Culture and Research Journal 16.2: 139–195.

    DOI: 10.17953/aicr.16.2.h259816u74640373Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discussion of Nebraska statute on repatriation of remains and funerary objects from public museums, with consideration of the Pawnee Tribe-Nebraska State Historical Society conflict that preceded the law.

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  • Price, H. M., III. 1991. Disputing the dead: U.S. law of Aboriginal remains and grave goods. Columbia, MO, and London: Univ. of Missouri Press.

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    An inventory of state laws on human remains. It additionally includes brief outlines of relevant federal legislation, e.g., the Antiquities Act of 1906, and the NMAI Act and NAGPRA. There is an excellent albeit brief analysis of repatriation as a revitalization movement of Native Americans.

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  • Seidemann, R. M. 2010. NAGPRA at 20: What have states done to expand human remains protections? Museum Anthropology 33.2: 199–209.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1379.2010.01098.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses state laws on repatriation following NAGPRA, with special consideration given to Louisiana. Available online by subscription.

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  • Yalung, C. B., and L. I. Wala. 1992. Survey of state repatriation and burial protection statutes. In Special issue: Symposium: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 and state repatriation-related legislation. Arizona State Law Journal 24.1: 417–434.

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    General survey of state laws pertaining to repatriation.

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Curatorial Concerns

Repatriation encompasses the curation of Native American human remains and cultural objects. Especially important are arsenic, pesticide, and asbestos contaminations, elaborated by Goldberg 1996 and Contaminated Collections (see especially papers by Tsosie and Jemison). Other curatorial concerns include traditional or ethnographic care, explained by Clavir 1996 and Flynn and Hull-Walski 2008. With new voices under repatriation laws, Native Americans increasingly participate in decision-making, which is examined by Cooper 2007 and Cassman and Odegaard 2004. Simpson 1994 discusses the display of human remains.

Identity and Religion

Laws require Native American groups to establish cultural affiliation—defined as “shared group identity” of remains or objects with an existing Native American tribe. At times, this has given rise to questions about group identity, considered by Beisaw 2010, Kelsey and Carpenter 2011, and Kitchens 2012. Although subject to litigation, cultural affiliation generally must be established to the satisfaction of the institution possessing the remains or objects. This has also accentuated identity issues among some Native Americans, as Thomas 2000 illustrates in general, and Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Powell 2012 illustrates regarding the Haudenosaunee and historic Susquehannock. Native American rights to religious and sacred objects “for the practice of traditional Native American religions” are guaranteed by NAGPRA and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) of 1978. Nevertheless, controversies surround the repatriation of sacred objects. Repatriation can even be a religious discourse, whether or not sacred objects are involved; this is shown in Johnson 2007, Johnson 2005, and Hill 2001.

  • American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) of 1978. Pub. L. 95-341. (Amended 1994, Pub. L. 103-344.)

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    Enacted to protect the ability of Native Americans to “believe, express, and exercise . . . traditional religious rights.” It guarantees the “use and possession of objects considered sacred.” In this sense, AIRFA was an important precedent to NAGPRA. (In 1994, the AIRFA was amended to include the protected use of peyote as a sacrament.)

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  • Beisaw, A. 2010. Memory, identity, and NAGPRA in the northeastern United States. American Anthropologist 112.2: 244–256.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2010.01223.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Culture history and the direct-historical approach are typically used to ascertain cultural affiliation under NAGPRA, says the author; a case study of the importance of memory in the repatriation process is provided. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Colwell-Chanthaphonh, C., and J. Powell. 2012. Repatriation and constructs of identity. Journal of Anthropological Research 68.2: 191–222.

    DOI: 10.3998/jar.0521004.0068.202Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A case study of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and the historic Susquehannock whereby the authors consider the construction of identity under NAGPRA. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Hill, R. W. 2001. Regenerating identity: Repatriation and the Indian frame of mind. In The future of the past: Archaeologists, Native Americans, and repatriation. Edited by T. L. Bray, 127–137. New York and London: Routledge.

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    Hill discusses Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) sacred wampum belts as the embodiment of oral traditions and continuation of (religious) identity, and how museums, under NAGPRA, may assist in preserving identity by providing access to archival and other information.

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  • Johnson, G. 2005. Narrative remains: Articulating Indian identities in the repatriation context. Comparative Studies in Society and History 47.3: 480–506.

    DOI: 10.1093/jaar/71.2.327Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examination of repatriation discourse and the fluidity of group boundaries that occurs in the repatriation process. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Johnson, C. 2007. Sacred claims: Repatriation and living tradition. Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press.

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    An analysis of how religious discourse entered into repatriation claims under NAGPRA, including Native Hawaiian repatriations. This discourse is also put into a larger, global context.

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  • Kelsey, P., and C. M. Carpenter. 2011. “In the end, our message weighs”: Blood Run, NAGPRA, and American Indian identity. American Indian Quarterly 35.1: 56–74.

    DOI: 10.5250/0095182x.35.1.56Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In an unusual article, the authors, both English professors, consider Allison Hedge Coke’s Blood Run free verse poetry about the Blood Run site, a mound city, and how it cannot be linked to a single extant tribal group. In so doing, they argue that NAGPRA should allow creative interpretations of identity.

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  • Kitchens, R. 2012. Insiders and outsiders: The case for Alaska reclaiming its cultural property. Alaska Law Review 29.1: 113–147.

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    Emphasizing NAGPRA as cultural property law and identity, Kitchens discusses the relatively low number of repatriation claims by Alaskan Natives, and offers reasons related to Native American identity in Alaska.

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  • Thomas, D. H. 2000. Skull wars: Kennewick Man, archaeology, and the battle for Native American identity. New York: Basic Books.

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    Excellent overview of Native Americans in the history of the United States and related issues of American and Native American identity in society today. The book also encompasses historical and contemporary repatriation issues, including the Omaha Pole, Ishi, and Kennewick Man.

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Healing Trauma

That human remains and cultural objects are kept in museums and other institutions has hindered if not actually prevented Native Americans from coming to terms with historical atrocities experienced over the centuries of colonialization. Though repatriations, Native Americans may reconcile themselves with American history. Individually and collectively, the authors of Bernstein 2013, Pullar 2008, and Thornton 2002 each take on trauma in their own way.

  • Bernstein, J. I. 2013. The impact of NAGPRA on communities. In Accomplishing NAGPRA: Perspectives on the intent, impact, and future of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Edited by S. Chari and J. M. N. Lavellee, 265–284. Corvallis: Oregon State Univ. Press.

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    Part of the chapter (pp. 272–276) is devoted to how repatriation under NAGPRA can heal group and individual traumas. Other parts consider how trauma has been created and possible paths to the future.

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  • Greer, E. S. 2013. A call for healing from the tragedy of NAGPRA in Hawaii. In Accomplishing NAGPRA: Perspectives on the intent, impact, and future of the Native American Graves Protection Act. Edited by S. Chari and J. M. N. Lavellee, 99–113. Corvallis: Oregon State Univ. Press.

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    Despite the healing possibilities of NAGPRA, the Act has sometimes created its own trauma for Native Hawaiians as they struggle with difficult, resistive repatriations. The Mokapu and Forbes Cave controversies are used as illustrations.

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  • Pullar, G. L. 2008. Repatriation, cultural revitalization and Indigenous healing in Alaska. In UTIMUT: Past heritage—future partnerships: Discussions on repatriation in the 21st century. Edited by M. Gabriel and J. Dahl, 108–115. Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).

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    Consideration of a repatriation from the Smithsonian to Larsen Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska. As Pullar indicates, it has led to a measure of community and individual healing, including for him.

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  • Thornton, R. 2002. Repatriation as healing the wounds of the trauma of history: Cases of Native Americans in the United States of America. In The dead and their possessions: Repatriation in principle, policy and practice. Edited by C. Fforde, J. Hubert, and P. Turnbell, 17–24. London: Routledge.

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    This is based on a paper presented at the 1999 World Archaeological Congress 4 in Cape Town, Republic of South Africa. It focuses on the United States and discusses the “trauma of history” and how repatriations may lessen this trauma. The views are based on Thornton’s direct experiences with repatriations that include Ishi’s brain, items from the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, and Cheyenne remains from the 1879 Fort Robinson/Antelope Creek Massacre.

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International Repatriation

Indigenous people in African countries, Australia, Canada, Chile (especially Rapa Nui [a.k.a. Easter Island]), and New Zealand are active in repatriation efforts. European countries, e.g., England and, recently, Norway, have been active in repatriations. Frequently, their repatriations are to African countries, yet Norway has agreed to repatriate human remains and thousands of artifacts from its Kon-Tiki Museum. Too, Native Americans in the United States attempt to repatriate from other countries; and the United States repatriates to other countries. There have been recent, as yet unsuccessful, efforts to pass a federal bill to prohibit the export of sacred tribal objects as well as to increase penalties for the theft and trafficking of objects of cultural patrimony. The bill is referred to as the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act.

Overviews

An overview of the US government’s effort to assist Native Americans in repatriating from other countries is provided in US Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2018. A publication from a World Archaeological Congress (WAC) conference is Fforde, et al. 2002. Redmond-Cooper 2015 considers Indigenous and other human remains, and Fforde 1997 examines the collection and repatriation of human remains. The Indigenous Repatriation Handbook contains repatriation guidelines.

Laws and Policies

US laws are considered the most expansive to date; however, other countries have related laws, policies, and practices, e.g., Australian Government Policy on Indigenous Repatriation. Watson 2003 is a comparison of Australia with the United States. Koehler 2007 considers the United States and Canada (see also Ferris 2003 under Legal and Ethical Concerns). Legal and policy overviews are in Kuprecht 2013 and Lenzerini 2009. Keeler 2012 provides a nice history of repatriation in the United States, then focuses upon worldwide repatriation. The UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (UNIDROIT) was an international effort to deal with illegal objects, including those that are historical and indigenous; UNDRIP is a United Nations declaration of Indigenous rights, including repatriations.

Cases

Australia has been active in Aboriginal repatriation, evidenced by cases in Turnbull and Pickering 2010, focusing on Australia but also providing cases from other countries. Canada has also been active, documented by Pfeiffer and Lesage 2014, Contray 2015, and Krmpotich and Peers 2014 (see also Fenton 1989, Tooker 1998, and Bruchac 2018 under Implementation Issues: Cases). Repatriation to Rapa Nui (a.k.a. Easter Island) is covered by Arthur 2015. Repatriations to the Ainu, who live primarily in the Hokkaido Prefecture of northern Japan, have been from Australia and other countries, along with ones from Japan itself, as Nakamura 2017 discusses. The repatriation of the well-known Sarah Bartmann (a.k.a. Saartje Baartmann; “The Hottentot Venus”) is covered by Bredekamp 2006. Harper 2000 writes about Minik, the little boy brought from Greenland to the United States, and Maddra 1999 briefly overviews the well-publicized repatriation of a Ghost Dance shirt.

  • Arthur, J. 2015. Reclaiming mana: Repatriation in Rapa Nui. PhD diss., University of California at Los Angeles.

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    The ethnography and “epistemological friction” surrounding repatriation and reburial in Rapa Nui (Chile; a.k.a. Easter Island) is examined. Illustrated in detail are the conflicting understandings of the Rapanui ivi tupuna (human remains) that arise between Rapanui and non-Indigenous people, including scientists. An excellent starting point for repatriation on Rapa Nui.

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  • Bredekamp, I. 2006. Politics of human remains: The case of Sarah Bartmann. In Human remains and museum practice. Edited by J. Lohman and K. J. Goodnow, 25–32. Paris: UNESCO.

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    Discussion of the national and international politics involved in the 2002 repatriation from France to South Africa of the remains of Sarah Bartmann, the Khoikhoi woman first taken to England and put on exhibit because of her steatopygia (large amount of fat on the buttocks).

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  • Contray, G., ed. 2015. “We are coming home”: Repatriation and the restoration of Blackfoot cultural confidence. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca Univ. Press.

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    Describes voluntary return of more than fifty medicine bundles from Canada’s Glenbow Museum to Blackfoot and Cree between 1990 and 2000, at which point Canada’s First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act (FNSCORA) was legislated.

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  • Harper, K. 2000. Give me my father’s body: The life of Minik, the New York Eskimo. Rev. ed. Iqaluit, NU: Blacklead Books.

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    An account of six Inuit brought to the American Museum of National History (AMNH) by Admiral Robert Peary in 1897. After death, the skeleton of Minik’s father, Qisuk, was displayed at the AMNH, following a “fake funeral” to deceive Minik. The book is revised from the 1986 edition, and covers the 1993 return of the remains of four of the Inuit—including Minik’s father, Qisuk—to Greenland, one having earlier returned alive. Minik died in the United States during the 1918 influenza pandemic. He is buried in Pittsburg, New Hampshire.

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  • Krmpotich, C., and L. Peers. 2014. This is our life: Haida material heritage and changing museum practice. Vancouver: Univ. of British Columbia Press.

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    Case of the Haida Nation’s 1999 attempt to reclaim around 800 treasured objects from Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum and the British Museum in London, and return them to Haida Gwaii (a.k.a. southern Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada). Emphasized is the understanding that developed between the Haida and museum personnel. Available online by subscription.

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  • Maddra, S. 1999. Glasgow’s Ghost Dance shirt. Glasgow, Scotland: Glasgow Museums.

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    Pamphlet briefly describing the 1999 return of a Lakota sacred Ghost Dance shirt (Wanaghi Wacapi Ogle Wakan) from the Glasgow Museum in Scotland.

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  • Nakamura, N. 2017. Cultural affiliation is not enough: The repatriation of Ainu human remains. Polar Record 53.2: 220–224.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0032247416000905Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discussion of problems facing the Ainu in seeking repatriations from Japan and other countries. The author shows the difficulties of using indigenous philosophies and concepts—kotan for the Ainu, encompassing group ownership—in legal proceedings. Part of the larger debates on Ainu rights in Japan as well as repatriation of Ainu human remains and cultural items from Japan and other countries.

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  • Pfeiffer, S., and L. Lesage. 2014. The repatriation of Wendat ancestors, 2013. Canadian Journal of Archaeology/Journal Canadien d’Archéologie 38.1: 5–12.

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    A brief consideration of the reburial at the Thonnakona Ossuary, Kleinburg, Ontario, of 1,700 Huron-Wendat remains from twelve archaeological sites. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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  • Turnbull, P., and M. Pickering, eds. 2010. The long way home: The meaning and values of repatriation. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.

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    Primarily case studies of the wide impacts of repatriations on Indigenous people, museums, and science. Various ethical issues are examined, along with historical, cultural, and scientific ones. It is mostly focused on cases in Australia, and the National Museum of Australia; however, cases from England, Canada, and the United States are additionally offered. Available by subscription on JSTOR.

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