Call Your Senator

| 9 Comments | 10 TrackBacks

I blogged some time ago about the proposed amendment to NAGPRA—the Native American Graves Preservation and Repatriation Act. This is a federal law that requires archaeologists to turn over human skeletons found on federal land if the skeleton to American Indian tribes, if the skeleton is that of a member of that tribe. The tribes then destroy the skeletons, so that they cannot be researched. Unfortunately, the law was a little bit vague, so there was a long court battle over Kennewick Man—a 10,000 year old skeleton that was not reasonably related to any present-day tribe, but which American Indian creationists nevertheless wanted to seize and destroy. That case went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in the scientists' favor some time ago. The court said that the law only applies if the skeleton is related to a current-day American Indian tribe.

In response, some Senators, including Ben Campbell of Colorado and John McCain of Arizona are trying to amend NAGPRA to ensure that any skeleton, no matter how old, must be handed over to whatever tribe claims it. The Bill, S536, includes a section (section 108) which will amend the current law so that it defines Native American Indian as

of, or relating to, a tribe, people, or culture that is or was indigenous to any geographic area that is now located within the boundaries of the United States.

What this means is that any skeleton found anywhere on Federal land, even if it is hundreds of thousands of years old and in no way related to an American Indian tribe, must be given to a tribe that claims it, rather than to scientists for research, and destroyed rather than studied—all to appease Native American creationists. This is an extremely serious threat to archaeology and anthropology in the United States.

This bill could go before the Senate for a vote this coming week. It is important to contact your Senator to urge them to delete section 108 from this bill. Otherwise religious extremists will be given a veto power over the scientific study of ancient skeletons. More information at the Friends of America's Past.

10 TrackBacks

NAGPRA from stranger fruit on April 2, 2005 12:09 PM

Over at the Panda's Thumb, Tim Sandefur notes that senators are attempting to modify the Native American Graves Preservation and Repatriation Act such that any skeleton, no matter how old, must be handed over to whatever tribe claims it. As Tim states:... Read More

Call, write, or email your Senator and tell them to delete section 108 of S536 (Native American Omnibus Act of 2005). Read More

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9 Comments

As an Indian and a physician and scientist, I absolutely agree that examination of the remains can provide a wealth of information. This becomes sticky, however, given the sovereign nation status of Indian tribes. This complicates the process enormously. It isn’t just an issue of “religious extremists” getting “veto power”. You have sovereign entities opposing the study of ancient skeletons.

I think that many tribes dislike studying remains/skeletons for several reasons.

1) There is often a cultural taboo over any study of human remains. In my experience, organ donation and autopsies are exceedingly rare in Indian Country. 2) Indian peoples hold the belief that they have been here forever. Any information suggesting that they have not would challenge their cultural traditions.

Of course, I often wonder what the cultural impact would be if an ancient Nez Perce skeleton was mistakenly returned to the Yakama tribe. That has to be some bad karma.

What this means is that any skeleton found anywhere on Federal land, even if it is hundreds of thousands of years old and in no way related to an American Indian tribe

Since humans migrated to North America maybe 12,000 years ago – 40,000 at the outside – I doubt that hundreds of thousands of years is an option.

“Hundreds or thousands” would be possible…

There are some important practical reasons that skeletons should be studied. If a skeleton is found in the wilderness, the first order of business is to determine whether or not it is a recent death (e.g., a murder or accident). The people who do this are forensic anthropologists. To train forensic anthropologists you have to give them skeletons to study, and they have to have a database of measurements to which new skeletons are compared.

There are some weirdly inconsistant local “traditions” created by NAGPRA, one example beeing a local tribe tossing their former creation myth involving a “long journey” to one where they have been “here” since the creation. I even heard a YEC spin, that science has proven that the tribe has been here since the creation since there are 10,000 year old C14 data from local sites. After all, the universe is only 10,000 years old.

Current tribes are trying to fit archaeological studies of ritualism into their “ethnographic” past with the complicity of “ethnographers.”

It is a crock. I have stopped finding burials.

[fixed typo – Nick]

Ben Campbell is no longer in the Senate, at least, so his vote won’t count.

I think former AG Ken Salazar is the new Coloradan in the Senate.

I called my senators today.  Strangely, only the staffers of one were actually clueful enough to direct me to a live body who asked me about the specific bill - and even he didn’t get the bill number until I repeated it twice.  (I wound up talking to voicemail at the other senator’s office.)

“Hundreds of thousands” was a typo. I meant to say hundreds or thousands.

I’m admittedly not all that familiar with this issue, and saw this site linked elsewhere in support of this amendment (go to “news” and then the document “World Archaeological Congress Supports NAGPRA Amendment (20 October, 2004).”

The World Archaeological Congress (WAC) came out today in support of Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s proposal to amend the existing Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). WAC offered its unreserved support for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee’s amendment to the Act which would recognize as Native American all human remains found in the United States that date prior to the documented arrival of European explorers. This revision is believed by many archaeologists to clarify the original intent of the law as it was passed in 1990.

***

“Claims by some scientists that this amendment has the potential to cripple the field of physical anthropology are irresponsible scare-mongering,” said Dr Smith. “Physical anthropology has been successfully done for the past 14 years under NAGPRA and this amendment will not change this practice in any way. It only clarifies the intent of the original law and resolves ambiguities that have arisen. The amendment does not affect the requirement that Native American claimants demonstrate cultural affiliation before being entitled to the return of human remains.”

I know nothing about this group–some background would be helpful.

FWIW, Ben Nighthorse Campbell is no longer in the Senate, having retired after the last term. His successor is Ken Salazar.

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on April 2, 2005 9:59 AM.

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