Museum Blog

The Purpose of Return

Posted 6/28/2011 12:06 AM by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh | Comments

Just over a year ago, the US Department of the Interior implemented a new rule to guide the return of Native American human remains from museums that could not be culturally affiliated with a modern day tribe. This new regulation, a part of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990, created deep tensions between Native Americans and museums and their allies. Many archaeologists complained that the regulations threatened science, while many Native Americans argued that the regulations still did not go far enough to recognize their human rights.

In one New York Times op-ed, the archaeologist Robert B. Kelly decried the new rule. He claimed that the regulations will "destroy a crucial source of knowledge about North American history and halt a dialogue between scientists and Indian tribes that has been harmonious and enlightening."

I very much respect Dr. Kelly, but I think that he was wrong in his analysis of the new regulations (see my NYT letter, and my own op-ed). In my opinion, the new rule is far from perfect, but it does provide a reasonable legal basis to address the remains of 116,000 Native Americans left on museum shelves as "unaffiliated." Since NAGPRA became law, over the last two decades, museum officials have only affiliated a little more than 25% of the Native American remains in collections.

* * *

Contrary to the claims of many archaeologists, NAGPRA is not fundamentally a "balance" between scientific and Native interests; it is about a process that provides the opportunity for the return of remains and cultural items to American Indians. When the law was passed, the US Congress did not intend for nearly three-fourths of human remains to be left on museum shelves for scientific study. If this was Congress' intent, then they would have never held in reserve a section for unaffiliated remains at all. If it was Congress' intent to make NAGPRA cultural resource law, to be of benefit for archaeology, then it would have placed NAGPRA in US Code title 16, not US title Code 25, which makes NAGPRA "Indian law"; and, Indian law requires that such statues "be construed liberally in favor of the Indians, with ambiguous provisions interpreted to their benefit."

The regulations most basically codify the process that many museums have already used for unaffiliated remains since 1994. They also reflect nearly the identical logic of the law's section for inadvertent discoveries (43 CFR 10.6) which outline the priority of custody of remains (and notably, archaeologists have managed to live with this section for 20 years with little to no complaint).

Here we are a year after the regulation became law and only several museums have actually even begun the process of applying it. Those who feared that the new regulations would empty museums were simply wrong: just as NAGPRA did not lead to the vast draining of museum collections in 1990, the new rule hardly impacted scientific research in 2010. The sky has yet to fall.

* * * 

Several weeks ago the DMNS returned the remains of 27 Native American individuals, unaffiliated. Because the remains are unaffiliated, we know very little about them. We don't know when they were collected, where exactly they came from, if they were found with grave goods, or how they were buried. I helped pack most of these skeletons, and nearly all of them were mere fragments of people and broken bones. A left arm, a jaw, a piece of a finger. Many of the remains were children. One skeleton was recent enough that it still had leather clothing scraps around the bone. Many of these skeletal fragments were donated to the museum decades ago; yet, only a single individual was scientifically studied, the only publication from this collection of human beings, a six page description of the remains in a minor journal published in 1976.

As I was packing these remains, I couldn't help but reflect on how utterly purposeless the collection of these remains has been. After many decades, these remains have never really served science and even if we kept them forever I couldn't guess what science would ever want with the finger bone of an Indian child taken from an unknown time and uncertain place.

Yet, we know that by keeping hold of these remains, we continue to perpetuate an injustice, the taking of these remains for no end, and that by keeping them we harm the cultural life and spiritual beliefs of many Native Americans. Perhaps it is a lack of scientific imagination on my part but on that day I could not think of a single good reason for the museum to keep them.

The emotions are hard to describe, but I felt satisfaction knowing that we had spent three years consulting with more than 80 tribes on these unaffiliated remains. We consulted with every federally recognized tribe that could conceivably be related to these remains, based on the rough geographic information the museum held about the remains. And all of tribes agreed to have these remains returned to one tribe, which would take the lead on returning these people back to the earth.

Perhaps I'll be proven wrong in the long term, but at least in the short term, the new regulations have proven to not be the draconian measure that so many archaeologists feared. And already, at least at my museum, the new regulations have even begun to do some good.

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Subscribe to our RSS feed

Authors

  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • AltAuth - Class - Diggin' Archaeology!
  • AltAuth - Class - Diggin' Archaeology!: Update 2/15/13
  • AltAuth - Class - Diggin' Archaeology!: Update 4/23/13
  • AltAuth - Class - Diggin' Archaeology!: Update 5/14/13
  • AltAuth - IMAX - Walking Again in Moccasins on Pavement
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • CN - Library
  • AltAuth - Tours - Preparing a fossil leaf slab for loan
  • AltAuth - Tours - Real Pirates need Conservators too
  • AltAuth - Tours - A Tale of Two Shoes
  • AltAuth - Tours - Mission Impossible: Conservation-style
  • AltAuth - Tours - Welcome Julie!
  • AltAuth - Planetarium - Pest Damage
  • AltAuth - Planetarium - Snowy Day at the Museum
  • AltAuth - Planetarium - Japan Earthquake
  • AltAuth - Planetarium - Scientists In Action Collections Table
  • AltAuth - Planetarium - Fire Supression Project in Education Collections
  • AltAuth - Travel - Our first post on our new webpage!
  • AltAuth - Travel - New Member Night April 7: Haida
  • AltAuth - Travel - Lakota Pipe Bowl and Stem: Anthropology Object of the Month for May 2011
  • AltAuth - Travel - DMNS Anthropology at the Tesoro Cultural Center Indian Market and Powwow May 14 and 15
  • AltAuth - Travel - Mandingo Spear: Anthropology Object of the Month for June 2011
  • AltAuth - Travel - How do you move a totem pole? Very carefully.
  • AltAuth - Travel - Mystery Beaded Bag: Anthropology Object of the Month for July 2011
  • AltAuth - Travel - Lizzie Jacket Beaded Purse: Anthropology Object of the Month for August 2011
  • AltAuth - Travel - IMLS Latin American Textiles: Anthropology Objects of the Month for September 2011
  • AltAuth - Travel - Crane North American Indian Cultures Hall Reopened!
  • AltAuth - Travel - "Everything Was Carved" Lunchtime Lecture
  • AltAuth - Travel - New Member Night October 27: Treasures From the Collections
  • AltAuth - Travel - Prep for Upcoming Temporary Exhibit
  • AltAuth - Travel - 2012 Interns have arrived!
  • AltAuth - Class - Teen Science Scholars Head to Peru
  • AltAuth - Class - Teen Science Scholars Peru Update - August 1st
  • AltAuth - Class - Teen Science Scholars Peru Update - August 2nd
  • AltAuth - Class - Teen Science Scholars Peru Update - August 3rd
  • AltAuth - Class - Teen Science Scholars Peru Update - August 4th
  • AltAuth - Class - Teen Science Scholars Peru Update - August 5th
  • AltAuth - Class - Teen Science Scholars Peru Update - August 6th
  • AltAuth - Class - Teen Science Scholars Peru Update - August 7th
  • AltAuth - Class - Teen Science Scholars Peru Update - August 8th
  • AltAuth - Class - Teen Science Scholars Peru Update - August 18th
  • AltAuth - Class - Sacred Carved Memorial Statues Return to Kenya
  • AltAuth - Lectures - Collections Prep Update 1
  • AltAuth - Lectures - Passenger Pigeons: Zoology Object of the Week (March 7, 2011)
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - June 2012
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - November 2012
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - January Sky Calendar 2013
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - January 2013
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - February Sky Calendar 2013
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - March Sky Calendar 2013
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - February 2013
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - April Sky Calendar 2013
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - March 2013
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - April 2013
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - May Sky Calendar
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - June Sky Calendar 2013
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - May 2013
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - July Sky Calendar 2013
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - June 2013
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - August Sky Calendar 2013
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - July 2013
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - September Sky Calendar 2013
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - August 2013
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - September2013
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - October Sky Calendar 2013
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - November Sky Calendar 2013
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - October 2013
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - December Sky Calendar 2013
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - January Sky Calendar 2014
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - February Sky Calendar 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - January 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 02/21/2014
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - March Sky Calendar 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 02/28/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - February 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 03/14/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 03/18/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 03/21/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 03/25/2014
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - April Sky Calendar 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 03/28/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - March 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 04/01/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 04/08/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 04/15/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 04/22/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 04/25/2014
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - May Sky Calendar 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 05/02/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - April 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 05/16/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 05/30/2014
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - June Sky Calendar 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - May 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 06/06/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 06/13/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 06/27/2014
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - July Sky Calendar 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - June 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 07/11/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 07/25/2014
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - August Sky Calendar 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 08/01/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - 60 Minutes in Space - July 2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 08/08/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 08/15/2014
  • AltAuth - Exhibition - Space News Update 08/29/2014
  • AltAuth - Families & Children - September Sky Calendar 2014
  • AltAuth - Special Events - Snowmass Site work
  • AltAuth - Special Events - Specimen jackets
  • AltAuth - Special Events - Snowmastodon Collections Update
  • AltAuth - - What We've Been Up To
  • AltAuth - Planetarium - Welcome
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • CN - Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
  • AltAuth - - Upcoming Events
  • AltAuth - - Teen Summer Scholar Opportunity
  • AltAuth - - Colorado Spider Survey
  • AltAuth - - Solifugae Research
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • CN - John Demboski
  • AltAuth - - Uniquely Blue, Uniquely You
  • AltAuth - - Hot Bisque
  • AltAuth - - Blue Tongue Blog Migration
  • AltAuth - - Spreading Blue Tongue Love!
  • AltAuth - - The Salty Story of a Sweet Theory Gone Sour
  • AltAuth - - Science Bites: For When You're Craving a Snack
  • AltAuth - - AChemS Annual Science Conference, Day 1: Tasting and Smelling Solo
  • AltAuth - - AChemS Annual Science Conference, Day 2: My Lucky (Poster) Day
  • AltAuth - - AChemS, Day 3: "How does the tongue know what it is tasting and how does the brain know what the tongue knows?"
  • AltAuth - - AChemS 2010, Day 4: Birth of Venus and Undesirable Sugar
  • AltAuth - - SEPA Conference 2010: Taking the lead in Science Education!
  • AltAuth - - Motherhood is Amazing
  • AltAuth - - Genes and Cuisines that Reign Supreme
  • AltAuth - - University of Colorado Scientists Have a Taste for DNA
  • AltAuth - - Blue Tongue Blog Migration
  • AltAuth - - Creation of My Alter Ego Yo Pearl
  • AltAuth - - Grants Dot Gov Navigating the NIH as a Newbie and hoping to learn enough to get funded
  • AltAuth - - When the Sniffles Stifle Smelling
  • AltAuth - - Chemoreception Via Dancing
  • AltAuth - - DNA Extraction: What happens to the stuff we scrape off your cheek?
  • AltAuth - - Hot Research Watch: Bitter Balm is Best
  • AltAuth - - The X-Files of DNA Epigenetics
  • AltAuth - - John Lee: Supertaster
  • AltAuth - - Genetics of Taste Goes National with PBS!
  • AltAuth - - PCR: Extraction, Amplify, Repeat
  • AltAuth - - Yo Pearls of Wisdom: Answer for Chelsea
  • AltAuth - - AChemS 2011 Day 1
  • AltAuth - - AChemS 2011 Day 2 Recap
  • AltAuth - - AChemS 2011 Optogenetics Craze
  • AltAuth - - AChemS 2011 Day 3 Chemesthesis
  • AltAuth - - Bitter on the Brain
  • AltAuth - - Bitter on the Brain Update
  • AltAuth - - UK Blood Test Predicts Life Expectancy
  • AltAuth - - Because Energy is Inherently Delicious
  • AltAuth - - Miracle Fruit: West Africa's Secret Berry
  • AltAuth - - How to Make Scientists Not Boring
  • AltAuth - - Yo Pearl Salutes the 2011 Nobel Prize Week
  • AltAuth - - Newly Discovered Taste Map in the Brain
  • AltAuth - - Yo Pearls of Olfaction Wisdom for Earl and Wim
  • AltAuth - - Yo Pearls of Olfaction Wisdom for James
  • AltAuth - - Beaker and Bunsen
  • AltAuth - - 2011 Volunteer Appreciation Dinner
  • AltAuth - - Yo Pearls of Wisdom for Erin at CSU
  • AltAuth - - Yo Pearls of Wisdom for Trishia
  • AltAuth - - I Got SciTerm Luv 4 Holobiont
  • AltAuth - - I Heart Sci Art via Gold Crown Foundation
  • AltAuth - - Yo Pearl Salutes Dr Bev Tepper
  • AltAuth - - Yo Pearl Tackles Tip of the Tongue and Six Flavors
  • AltAuth - - Sickle Cell at Mile High Clark vs. Altitude in Broncos Playoff
  • AltAuth - - How Would You Define Edible?
  • AltAuth - - Yo Pearl Salutes Cool Science Chicks: Meet Carolyn Dong
  • AltAuth - - Colorado Legacy Foundation 2012 Summit, Presentation Resources
  • AltAuth - - Classroom Energizer: Colorful Colorado!
  • AltAuth - - AChemS Day 1: Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • AltAuth - - AChemS 2012 Day 2: The Flavor of Things to Come
  • AltAuth - - AChemS 2012 Day 3: Sensing Brain Disease
  • AltAuth - - AChemS 2012 Day 4: The Rebirth of Taste
  • AltAuth - - Blue Tongue Luv 4 Denver Post & YourHub
  • AltAuth - - Ancestry and Papillae, Teen Science Scholar Research
  • AltAuth - - The Smell of the Holidays
  • AltAuth - - Got Magnesium? How Mg2+ Lets Cells Know When to Grow
  • AltAuth - - Understanding the Epigenetics of Birth Defects
  • AltAuth - - Bigger Genes: More Than a Wardrobe Issue
  • AltAuth - - Requested References for Paleo Diet
  • AltAuth - - Paleo Diet, Reader Responses
  • AltAuth - - Eat Well at School Colorado!
  • AltAuth - - Taste and the Digestive System: The complexity behind your decision to eat
  • AltAuth - - ASMcue 2013 Crowdsourcing Resources
  • AltAuth - - Zombies Invade Genetics of Taste Lab!
  • AltAuth - - Yo Pearls of Wisdom for Madeline
  • AltAuth - - Yo Pearls of Wisdom for High School
  • AltAuth - - Get up, Stand up...Stand up for your Health!
  • AltAuth - - Varicella-zoster Virus Infection of Sensory Neurons
  • AltAuth - - New Study in the Genetics of Taste Lab!
  • AltAuth - - Results of Three-Year Pilot Study on Bitter Taste
  • AltAuth - - Explore Rx: A Shark's Tale: Health tips from the ocean
  • AltAuth - - Poliovirus Research and Eradication: Past, Present and Future
  • AltAuth - - Extract DNA at Home
  • AltAuth - - JaK/STAT inhibition to prevent post-traumatic epilepsy
  • AltAuth - - Traumatic Brain Injury: A "Silent Epidemic"
  • AltAuth - - A Bet, a Beer and Archaeochemistry
  • AltAuth - - 2014 Brewer for a Day at DBC
  • AltAuth - - The Eyes Have It
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Frank Krell
  • CN - Ian Miller
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Steve Nash
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Carla Bradmon
  • CN - Carla Bradmon
  • CN - Carla Bradmon
  • CN - Carla Bradmon
  • CN - Carla Bradmon
  • CN - Carla Bradmon
  • CN - Carla Bradmon
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Tara Hubner
  • CN - Carla Bradmon
  • CN - Carla Bradmon
  • AltAuth - IMAX - Link: Castle of Shadows
  • AltAuth - IMAX - Link: Wifi Light Painting
  • AltAuth - IMAX - Astro: Mid-IR Imaging of M82 from Subaru
  • AltAuth - IMAX - Astro: Kepler Orrery Movies
  • AltAuth - IMAX - Astro: Hubble 21st anniversary image release
  • AltAuth - IMAX - A New Scenario for Forming Planets
  • AltAuth - IMAX - Kepler Orrery II
  • AltAuth - IMAX - Astro: WISE All Sky Survey

Categories

Tags

Archives

^ Back to Top