Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis announced availability of $1.6 million in federal grant money to document and help return human remains and cultural objects to American Indian tribes.
“The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is one of the most important tools we have to address violations of human rights against Native nations, individuals, and their ancestors,” Jarvis said.
Funding will be going to 31 recipients for projects to support the efforts of museums to document NAGPRA-related objects and cost reimbursement associated with the return of remains and objects.
According to NPS, NAGPRA, a public law enacted in 1990, “provides a process for museums and federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items—human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony—to lineal descendants, and culturally affiliated tribes.”
One of the awardees is Arizona State Museum (ASM) on the University of Arizona campus, the official repository for archeological discoveries in a state boasting 22 federally recognized tribes. The museum will get $89,671, but isn’t exactly sure how the money will be spent yet.
“It’s our goal to facilitate repatriation of archaeological site collections estimated to include skeletal remains of 600 individuals found at more than 70 sites as well as approximately 15,000 shell artifacts, ground stone objects, ceramics, and other funerary objects,” said the museum’s NAGPRA coordinator and osteology lab manager, Dr. John McClelland, who applied for the grant. “Funds will support documentation of cultural affiliation and consultations with potentially-affiliated Native American tribes. It would be inappropriate to state which tribe will be receiving the collections since consultations have not yet been completed.”
“We are in a region of the world unique to none and where we come from and what we know about our ancestry is part and parcel of who we are,” Congressman Raul Grijalva told a group of museum patrons August 17 in announcing the grant. “That’s why I’m a strong supporter of tribal rights and in this case, we’re ahead of the curve because ASM has the passion and sensitivity to realize the concept of ‘we have it, but it belongs to you’ and we need to go through the process of rightful return in a dignified and respectful way that honors Native peoples.”
“NAGPRA is one of the positive federal pieces of legislation that acknowledges and gives the tribes the legal process of being able to bring home those things that are special to us,” said Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “This grant continues that kind of commitment and gives me added confidence that we’re going to be able to continue with that process in the future.”
When Grijalva was asked by ICTMN if the grants are a tangible display of federal government support he said they are, “but it needs to be much more and the act itself needs to be strengthened to where you front-load participation of Native peoples in the process at the same time you back-load Native peoples in the accountability of the process.
“What this allocation demonstrates is there are some programs that have done damned well in ensuring that progress is being made. Usually when you go through these processes, tribes are pretty mad that somebody has their things and they want them back. It’s a tug-and-pull because museums have had their way and now they’re having to go through the process of returning items. It’s a lengthy and complicated process, but I think this money is a continuing commitment to repatriation and hopefully an even larger commitment will come with more resources and further strengthening of the act itself.”
Visit the Department of the Interior’s website for the full list of recipients.