Leaders discuss NAGPRA
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JULY 27, 2000

Tribal leaders, scientists, and government officials met this week to discuss, and in some cases, criticize the government over how it handles the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990.

Seen as a historic law which allows Native Americans to reclaim what rightfully belongs to them-- cultural property and tribal ancestors--NAGPRA has come under scrutiny recently. One of the most significant case, which attracted worldwide attention, has centered around Kennewick Man, a 9,000-year-old Native American found in Washington.

Armand Minthorn, Chair of the NAGPRA Review Committee, criticized the Department of Interior for making repatriation more difficult. He said the Interior has not consulted with tribes, one of its own written requirements, in certain decisions involving Kennewick Man.

"Rather than engage in collaborative decision-making or meaningful consultation as required by NAGPRA and Executive Order 13084, Interior has chosen instead to inform the five claimants of the decisions after-the-fact, and tried to convince us that the are doing this 'for-our-own-good,'" said Minthorn.

He cited the recent DNA tests ordered by the Interior as an example. He said the tribes claiming Kennewick Man--the Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce, Colville, and Wanampus--have opposed DNA testing and were willing to have the agency make a final determination on to whom, if anyone, the remains should be repatriated, without the tests.

Martin Sullivan, the former Chair of the NAGPRA committee, criticized the National Park Service (NPS) a bureau of the Interior. He said the Park Service has been slow to complete NAGPRA business.

Sullivan cited a backlog of 236 NAGPRA cases as of June. He said these cases represent the failure of the Park Service to publish the items in the Federal Register and to repatriate items in a timely manner.

Suzan Harjo, president of The Morning Star Institute, helped negotiate the repatriation provision of NAGPRA. She appeared more harsh on the Park Service, whom she and other leaders recommended to be the lead NAGPRA agency.

"We ignored the lengthy history of NPS's institutionalized racism against Native peoples and its conflict of interest with repatriation, naively believing that it was a new day in Interior and NPS," said Harjo. "The past ten years have provided numerous examples of NPS's repatriation conflicts and its inherent conflict of interest in implementing a law that specifically benefits Native Peoples.

The testimony was not always critical, however. Katherine Stevenson, Associate Director of Cultural Resource Stewardship and Partnerships for the Park Service, cited last year's successful repatriation of over 2,000 ancestors to Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico.

She also said the Park Service recognizes the backlog and Federal register problem. She said the Department of Interior has requested an additional $400,000 next year to carry out NAGPRA.

Rosita Worl, president of the Sealaska Heritage Foundation, said the law has opened up avenues for the Tlingit people, her tribe. She said the Tlingit have been collaborating with the National Museum of National History to preserve traditional knowledge.

Related Stories:
Repatriation panel supported (Tribal Law 06/12)
Yakama Nation files Kennewick Man suit (Tribal Law 06/01)
Kennewick testing to begin (Indian U 04/24)

Only on Indianz.Com:
NAGPRA (Tribal Law)

Relevant Links:
Executive Order 13804, Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments -
The Deparment of Interior -
The National Park Service, DOI -
American Indian Liasion Office, NPS -