Professor Brian Bates
April 2, 2012
Repatriation and Reburial Issues with Native American Ancestral Remains
Repatriation is the return of human remains or sacred objects or objects of cultural significance to the individuals, groups, or nations that the archaeological finds belonged to. Part of Repatriation is the reburial of the human remains that originally were archaeologically excavated. There is a movement on repatriation involving the native people’s right to the archaeological finds. Also laws have been enacted worldwide to deport artifacts and human remains back to the original owners, for example the NAGPRA in the United States. Repatriation and the reburial of human remains modern day issue mostly focusing around Native Americans in the United States. The main worry of repatriation is that it has changed modern archaeological excavations with Native American human remains and many policies supported the rights of Native Americans. For years, American archaeologists excavated precious Native American Indian burial grounds and other holy archaeological sites removing artifacts and human remains. These remains were either placed in storage facilities or simply archived and not even studied further. This removal of artifacts to American Indians is morally unjust and discourteous to the history of Native Americans. While American Indians attempted to prevent excavations on their ancestors’ land, western archaeologists argued that the expansion of knowledge was a valid reason to continue their scientific research. Although protective procedures exist like the NAGPRA, there is still an issue with the respect of burial rituals for Native American tribes and the need for expansion of academic knowledge through studying the Native American remains.
In the early 1990s, Western society had a problem with grave looting to gain archaeological evidence of historic sites because of this, authorized practices of assembling, analyzing, and displaying Native relics and cultural artifacts in museums by harsh excavation methods, like the decapitations of slain Native warriors these methods that were practiced had no consideration of for Native Americans. Although these thieves had been taking valuable tangible history, they did not take into account traditions that are well known with the indigenous peoples of the United States of America. The artifacts in the museums were often labeled wrong or incorrectly told of Native American tribes practices in their history. These ridiculous excavation practices did not provide correct or justified scientific analysis or long-term curation of skeletal remains (Bray 59). So basically the scientific knowledge gained from these excavations was useless and not accurate in gaining any new knowledge of Native American culture. The deep culture and history being stolen from Native American tribes had been persistent until repatriation instilled a federal “zone of contact” between Native people, archaeologists, and museums, to allow descendants to emphasize and establish the relations to artifacts unearthed (Bray 64). The United States recognized the repatriation movement, and addressed historical injustices done to Native Americans pertaining to their ancestral history. Also the United States restored the cultural and legal legislation of human rights that had been taken away from Native American Indians (Riding In 358). Despite the laws passed to prevent these issues of human rights; American Indian nations differ not only among themselves over matters of being related by cultural association with a particular set of remains uncovered, but also with museums and members of the scientific community over the respectable treatment of the deceased related to their kind.
The Native American...