Opinion: NAGPRA rule forces museums to confront the past
"More than 116,000 skeletons of Native American ancestry sit idle on museum shelves today. Their fate — long unknown — has finally been settled.

On Friday, a new regulation will establish a process to return Native American human remains that have not been affiliated with a federally recognized tribe. This legal rule fulfills the promise of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which already has laid the groundwork for the return of 32,000 Native American skeletons. The new rule affects hundreds of museums and tribes across the United States.

The panic has already set in. As the journal Nature recently reported, "researchers fear that this could empty museum collections." An Indian Country Today article suggests that scientists may sue to challenge the rule.

Resistance to repatriation is based on the false assumption that human bones are merely scientific "specimens." But the tangible vestiges of a human life have a distinctive power. From Buddhist cremations to Christian burials, cultures around the globe acknowledge the body's spiritual vitality, even in death. For centuries, Western common law has affirmed that human skeletons are not "property" that can be taken without consent.

Yet, these views have not been fairly extended to Native Americans over the last 500 years. American Indian graves have been systematically pillaged since the first colonial encounters. In addition to scientific expeditions, many Native American skeletons come from massacre sites and outright plunder."

Get the Story:
Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh: Opening America's skeleton closets (The Denver Post 5/9)

Also Today:
With state's nod, Indians' spirits can walk free (The Virginia Gazette 5/9)

Federal Register Notice:
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Regulations--Disposition of Culturally Unidentifiable Human Remains; Final Rule (March 15, 2010)

Related Stories:
Museums consider challenge to new NAGPRA regulations (3/31)
University of Michigan to consult tribes about ancestors (3/17)
NPS finalizes NAGPRA rule on 'unidentifiable' ancestors (3/16)