Support Behind Draft Proposal for Changes to NAGPRA (Cultural Resources In the News Again!)
Written by: Eric Chiasson
The National Park Service made public the draft proposal for revisions to NAGPRA regulations last month and they are already getting publicity. The New York Times ran a story last week (Aug. 6 edition of the NYT) about the draft proposal, which could affect the disposition of the remains of 116,000 Native American ancestors that are still held by institutions around the country following the original passage of the Act in 1990. The draft proposal reflects efforts by the Biden administration to make adjustments that would expedite repatriation proceedings in certain cases and, importantly, require museums to complete the process of identifying remains in collections. Significantly, the draft proposal also seeks to extend requirements to certain sacred items that were not covered by the DOI’s previous NAGPRA rule change (2010) addressed to what were then called “culturally unidentifiable remains.” Currently out for consultation with Tribal nations and native Hawaiian communities, the draft regulations will be published in the Federal Register for public comment in October.
The recent revelations of atrocities at the Catholic Church-run, government-funded Indian residential schools in Canada prompted Secretary Haaland to order a comprehensive one-year inquiry into the American counterpart system. And now the administration is responding to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office on the efficacy of NAGPRA administration that found fundamental shortcomings at agencies across the federal land managing departments (DOI, USDA, DoD). Perhaps the most remarkable and confidence inspiring thing about all of this is that the mainstream media and public are paying attention at a critical juncture in our nation’s history.
A supportive administration, media establishment, and public could be the difference in finally realizing what was the legislative purpose of NAGPRA when it was enacted three decades ago.