The University of Nevada, Reno held its inaugural NAGPRA Symposium on Thursday, March 10. Nearly 100 people attended in person and over 100 attended the hybrid day-long event virtually. The seminar included an action-packed day with expert panelists from local tribes and community leaders who shared experiences and lessons about the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
The symposium began with an acknowledgment of the land by College of Liberal Arts Dean Debra Moddelmog and an opening prayer by new elder Mary McCloud. Several times during the symposium, speakers reminded the audience that the University campus is on the traditional lands of the Numu (Northern Paiute), Wašiw (Washoe), Newe (Western Shoshone), Nuwu (Southern Paiute) peoples. .
Suzan Shown Harjo’s keynote speech kicked off the event. Harjo has worked for decades to shape a national Native American political agenda that addresses issues at the heart of Native identity.
Harjo, a Cheyenne citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, born in her treaty territory in El Reno, Oklahoma, is also Hotvlkvlke Mvskokvlke of Nuyakv Ground, raised on farmland allocated to the Muscogee Nation Reservation. A writer, curator and policy advocate, she has crafted historic laws and led campaigns for the inherent sovereignty and human rights of Indigenous peoples, protecting cultural, historic and sacred places and reclaiming over one million acres of land. .
“NAGPRA recognizes an indigenous people,” Harjo said in his opening speech. “He recognizes the kinship of families.”
After a short morning break, a panel discussion moderated by local tribal leaders sparked many discussions and questions about building good relationships during repatriation. Panelists included: Diane Teeman, President and Director of the Department of Culture and Heritage, Burns Paiute Tribe; Michon Eben, Tribal Historic Preservation Manager, Reno Sparks Indian Colony; Rochanne Downs, Tribal Historic Preservation Manager, Fallon-Paiute Shoshone Tribe; and Warren Graham, Tribal Historic Preservation Manager, Duckwater Shoshone Tribe.
An additional presentation was given after lunch. ‘NAGPRA at NUR: The Institutional Response and Vision for the Future’, included a range of professionals in the field. Debra Moddelmog, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts; Desireé Reneé Martinez, MA, RPA, President and Senior Archaeological Researcher, Cogstone Resource Management Inc.; Wendy Teeter, Ph.D., Cultural Resource Archaeologist, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians/Cogstone Resource Management; and Debra Harry, Ph.D., Numu/Kooyooe Tukadu, Associate Professor of Indigenous Studies, Department of Gender, Race and Identity, led this informative presentation.
Provost Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., delivered the closing remarks for this panel and also reinforced the University’s commitment to developing reciprocal relationships with local Indigenous communities.
For the final section of the symposium, “Looking Forward Beyond NAGPRA,” Mishuana Goeman, Ph.D., Tonawanda Band of Seneca, Professor of Gender and Native American Studies, and Affiliate Professor of Community Engagements and Critical Race Studies at UCLA, gave the closing address.
In his address, “Repatriation, Rematriation and Actualizing Inclusive Campuses for Indigenous Futures,” Goeman said, “We are protectors of an Indigenous future; that’s how I see the work being done.
Goeman ended with: “There has been a long and long unanswered request for this, until now. I am very happy to see this work being done on campuses like this.
NAGPRA was enacted in 1990 to address the long-standing harm to Indigenous peoples from the collection of ancestral remains, sacred objects and other cultural heritage items by researchers and museum curators from universities, museums and other organizations. The symposium was therefore a way to share information about the history and goals of NAGPRA in general, but also to reflect on its history at the University and with the tribal nations of the Great Basin.
The Research Museum of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno, holds Native American human remains and cultural artifacts that were primarily obtained between 1967 and 1980 as a result of university archaeological digs, resource management projects cultural or inadvertent discoveries by the public that have been donated to the department.
As required by NAGPRA, notification letters were sent to culturally affiliated tribes circa 1995. However, only a few repatriations have been made since then, and there are still ancestral remains in the custody of the department. But there are other collections at the University that may also contain culturally affiliated objects and sacred objects for which tribal consultation and possible repatriation is required.
The University has acknowledged that it is committed to bringing ancestors and their property back to their homes, and it recently renewed its efforts to consult with tribal nations to ensure that all ancestors in the care of the University of Nevada, Reno, be repatriated as soon as possible. .
Additionally, the University is currently recruiting a NAGPRA Liaison Officer and Project Manager to lead NAGPRA-related efforts. This liaison will join another new recruit, the Director of Indigenous Community Relations, who will report directly to the University President. Both positions were created to facilitate NAGPRA-related activities and actions and to strengthen relationships and partnerships between the University and the tribes of the Great Basin.
The NAGPRA symposium was organized by Debra Harry, Ph.D. and received strong provost support. Other co-sponsors included the College of Liberal Arts and the Nevada Indian Commission.