A New Attack on Repatriation –

Who owns the past? That’s the headline of an editorial in the April copy of Scientific American. The question is occasioned by regulations that the U.S. Department of the Interior added to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in May 2010. As the magazine puts it, these rules “allow tribes to claim even those remains whose affiliation cannot be established scientifically, as long as they were found on or near the tribes’ aboriginal lands.”

Scientific American argues that the addenda to NAGPRA are too favorable to American Indian communities and that archaeologists should be having a greater say in these matters. “In our view,” the editorial board says, “the new regulations should be repealed or, at least, revised.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the argument against the new regulations is coached in Western theological terms: “In effect, they [the Indians] privilege faith over fact.”

Such a statement shows little understanding of the forms and strength of indigenous relations to ancestors and to the requirements of maintaining the spiritual stewardship of the land. From all appearances, Scientific American isn’t making much effort to understand indigenous cultures’ interpretations of reality, meaning, and life. Instead, the publication gives credence to scientific, professional, and nonspiritual understandings of the value and meaning of human ancestors and sacred funerary objects. As far as the editors are concerned, American Indian perspectives are irrelevant. They’re even irresponsible because they don’t protect human history and knowledge.

To understand this more fully, read the piece, which uses as its springboard a set of bones nearly 10,000 years old, found in 1976 on a bluff in La Jolla, California. The bones may soon be returned to the Kumeyaay Nation of the Southwest, who claim residence in their homeland for more than 12,000 years and who are eager to recover remains and other artifacts.

Scientific American prefers to side with archeologists who argue that there is no Kumeyaay link here because “the Kumeyaay claim is based on folklore. The physical evidence indicates that the La Jolla bones are not affiliated with any modern tribe, including the Kumeyaay, who moved into the area only within the past few thousand years.”

FULL ARTICLE: A New Attack on Repatriation –

About Kurly Tlapoyawa (1010 Articles)

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