Video: The Repatriation Debate

What is it?

National Association of Scholars

Over 30 years ago, in 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed. NAGPRA is a federal law that mandates the return of human remains and cultural items to modern American Indian tribes. This push for repatriation occurs even if the remains or items are thousands of years old with little evidence to connect the artifacts with the present-day tribes.

NAGPRA, and other similar state repatriation laws, have ignited a debate—which human remains and artifacts should be repatriated and reburied and which should be preserved and studied? What information, such as DNA, historical accounts, or oral traditions, should be treated as evidence? Which evidence should take precedence? And how closely related do remains and artifacts need to be for repatriation to occur?

Rather than work on these issues and the many other repatriation issues, pro-repatriation anthropologists and archaeologists have painted those who are skeptical of repatriation as insensitive to the heritage of present-day tribes, and at worst racists. Furthermore, repatriation ideology has developed into a post-modernist and decolonization movement working to control anthropological researchers by handing control of scientific inquiry to contemporary American Indian communities and their allies.

This webinar features Elizabeth Weiss, Professor of Anthropology at San Jose State University; Bruce Bourque, Chief Archaeologist and Curator of Ethnography at the Maine State Museum; and Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars.

Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash

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