Call Your Senator

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.