Over the past two months I was writing my Cultural Heritage Studies master’s dissertation at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. Below is the abstract. Welcome back to Culture in Peril!
In November of this year we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Heralded as a major piece of human rights legislation, NAGPRA has made great strides in its twenty years in revaluing Native American religion and culture as a vital part of the national heritage. The anniversary year provides a useful opportunity to evaluate the current state and consider the future direction of repatriation in the United States. In this paper I explicate the “three C’s”—consultation, communication, collaboration—as a best practice for parties to Native American repatriation cases. Where the debate is widely viewed as one between culture and science, I argue instead that Native and scientific ways of knowing about the past are equally valuable towards understanding the human condition and our species’ shared cultural heritage. Based on secondary source research and personal communication with repatriation scholars around the United States, I discuss important historic preservation and Native American religious freedom laws that have influenced how NAGPRA has been applied to the diversity of requests for the return of human remains and cultural objects. Using the Zuni Tribe’s approach to repatriation as a positive example, I explain how parties interested in a case should follow the three C’s to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome. Consultation, communication, and collaboration as a recommended method of discourse may foster constructive relationships between groups with historically conflicting viewpoints, namely Native Americans, museums, archaeologists, and anthropologists.