“The job is never done when it comes to NAGPRA,” said John Stomberg, director of the Hood Museum.
A New policy announced in March is supposed to help the University of California at Berkeley repatriate more than 9,500 Native American remains. Its collection is the largest in the country, according to the National Park Service, and it has remained so, according to university officials, as previous administrators delayed the repatriation process.
“Historically, UC Berkeley has viewed repatriation and NAGPRA as a process that conflicts with the research interests of the university,” said Thomas Torma, the school’s liaison for the law, by e-mail. “As a result of these changes, over the past year we have been able to transfer at least 297 people and 15,792 of their belongings to the tribes. “
When the remains are returned, the tribes often held poignant reburial ceremonies. After the University of Michigan repatriated the remains of 94 Native Americans and 812 burial items associated with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe in 2014, members withstood freezing temperatures to commemorate the return to a cemetery established in 1995 as a place of reburial of their ancestors.
“It’s emotional, not just a physical thing that we go through with the repatriation,” Tony Perry, a ceremony attendee, told the tribe. publication back then, “and it’s a deeply spiritual and emotional thing that comes from the heart.”
By clarifying timelines and filling gaps in existing regulations, the Biden administration hopes to hold accountable not only museums, but also the many government agencies with Indigenous remains in their possession. Federal registry documents indicate that the Indian Affairs Office, the United States Navy and the Army Corps of Engineers continue to revise their inventory counts, increasing the number of human remains and funerary objects found in their collections, after having been called by the Government Accountability Office over ten years ago for failing to fully comply with the law.
Critics of the current system argue that no matter where you look, it is difficult to detect great progress.
“At the current rate, it will be another seven decades before the 116,000 human remains are processed,” said Chip Colwell, former curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science who led its NAGPRA compliance program and later wrote a delivered on the fight for repatriation. “When leaders consider the amount of work to be done, there is a deep sense of frustration. “