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In 1990, theNative American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed.

NAGPRA is a federal law, passed by Congress in 1990, that requires federally-funded institutions to return human remains and objects found in Indian graves to their original owners. It provides a similar remedy for remains and grave goods found in the future on federal or tribal lands. It makes the sale of illegally-obtained grave materials a federal crime. It also permits tribes to request the return of objects which, though they were legally acquired by museums or other institutions, are indispensable to a tribe, forming part of its 'cultural patrimony.' The term 'Native American' in the law also covers Native Hawaiians.

A good starting point to obtain information about this issue is PBS's website: Who Owns the Past?

Another article that offers two differing perspectives on the issue is: Debating NAGPRA'S Effects from

The question for debate: Do you think that Native American remains that have been used for study should be returned to the tribes?
Whoa! Great question, Cyan.

It seems to me that if one wishes to "study" a culture, one must first have respect for that culture and that means understanding their traditions. As I have said here in the past, I am half Comanche and although I was never raised on the rez, I do have an understanding on the importance of burial ceremonies to that culture. Many see death as just another step in the journey and it is important that step be taken properly. I, for the life of me, can't imagine what kind of scientific knowledge could be more important than that, so my answer to your question posed for debate is a resounding YES! The remains should be returned.
Abs like Jesus
I think they should be returned.

What struck me from the PBS report on NAGPRA was something I was, up until now, unaware of:
At the turn of the century, for example, Congress enacted the Antiquities Act of 1906... what that act did was to convert native dead who were interred on public lands into federal property, and called these human beings federal property and archaeological resources. And the Antiquities Act said that you could dig up these resources for permanent preservation in a public museum with a federal permit... ARPA converted dead human beings into federal property. And it just so happened that we were principally talking about native people here. So that law in 1906 led to untold thousands of Native people being dug up on federal land across the country, carted off to museums across the country for permanent preservation.

As though it weren't enough to run a people off their land, the federal government later passed laws allowing and encouraging the desecration of burial sites. For whatever reasons prior to this I had simply assumed most artifacts were recovered from abandoned sites or from fallen Native American combatants. I think the Antiquities Act is an example of horrible legislation and I view the NAGPA to be a fitting response to it.

From the site, the principal argument against NAGPA is summaraized as such:
Meighan saw reburying bones and artifacts as "the equivalent of the historian burning documents after he has studied them. Thus, repatriation is not merely an inconvenience but makes it impossible for scientists to carry out a genuinely scientific study of American Indian prehistory." Because of NAGPRA, he concluded, "an entire field of academic study may be put out of business."
Heaven forbid historians ask Native Americans for cooperation in studying American Indian prehistory. Whether it was legal at the time or not, I think the desecration of graves was inappropriate and unethical all the same. I think any artifacts that fall under the scope of NAGPRA should be returned with historians left to the task of negotiating with Native Americans for continued study.

I don't think an entire field of academic study need be put out of business, and I certainly don't view the effects of NAGPA to be comparable to "burning historical documents." Documents are not human beings with descendants forced to watch their desecration and documents can be copied. Being asked to seek the cooperation of living Native Americans in the study of American Indian prehistory could even do the field some good, bringing researchers even closer to their subject of study.
I agree with both Aquilla and Abs on this one. I think that there is far more to be gained out of cooperation with the native Americans, and thus I think that the identifiable remains should be returned.

I'm not so sure that I feel the same way about the Kennewick-Man case, though. The skeleton is over 9,000 years old, and scientists were unable, via DNA, to link it to any of the six tribes that claimed it. They do, however, think that the skeleton did belong to a native American. Out of principle, these tribes claimed the body jointly, but in reality, the skeleton could have belonged to a different group with entirely different religious beliefs.
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