NAGPRA rule change consultations kick off
Tribes, Native Hawaiians & general public invited to weigh in on proposed streamline of repatriation law.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of the Interior launched its first tribal consultation session yesterday regarding a new proposed rule change that the agency has developed regarding the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
The 1990 federal law “provided a process for federal agencies and museums that receive federal funds to repatriate or transfer from their collections certain Native American cultural items — human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony — to lineal descendants, and to Indian tribes, Alaska Native Corporations, and Native Hawaiian organizations,” notes the Bureau of Land Management.
The law additionally “provides a process for Federal agencies to address new discoveries of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural property intentionally excavated or inadvertently discovered on Federal or Tribal lands.”
Interior announced in October that it planned to overhaul the law, specifically by streamlining requirements for museums and federal agencies to inventory and identify human remains and cultural items in their collections.
Tribes and Native advocates have long said the law needs improvements.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida noted some of its problems earlier this year.
“I go into each meeting with an open mind – but they’re not interested in repatriating ancestors,” Tina Osceola, who leads the Seminole Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO), said in a recent interview with the Seminole Tribune. “They’re more dedicated to their own research and patrimony over ancestors – not in making the process easier for the tribes.”
“Tribes go to a great deal of efforts and expense to bring that case before the committee — a committee comprised of scientists, museum professionals and tribal members — without any guarantee that the committee’s finding will be acted upon,” Rosita Worl, who served on a national NAGPRA review committee for more than a decade, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs at a February hearing.
The Interior Department stated in October that it has consulted with 71 Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations on a draft proposal to improve NAGPRA and that it had received more than 700 specific comments. Feedback reported by the agency included:
Strengthening the authority and role of Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations in the repatriation process
Addressing barriers to timely and successful disposition and repatriation
Documenting and addressing requests of Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations when human remains or cultural items are discovered on federal or Tribal lands before items are further disturbed, and
Increasing transparency and reporting of holdings or collections
The first tribal consultation session, held Dec. 15, was generally well received by attendees Indigenous Wire has queried, but several organizations, included the Association on American Indian Affairs and the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, are expected to weigh in with detailed recommendations before the rule-making process plays out.
Also expect Native Hawaiian organizations to provide input, as they have unique and particular needs and interests related to the law and its intent.
Interior is scheduled to hold its next NAGPRA tribal consultation on Dec. 19 from 1 - 4 p.m. ET. Tribes can register to join here.
There will also be an in-person consultation on Jan. 12 from 10 -1 p.m. MT at the Bureau of Land Management National Training Center in Phoenix.
Melanie O’Brien, the designated federal officer for the National Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Program with the National Park Service, can be reached at 202-354-2201 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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