Repatriation of Native American Human Remains: A Step Towards Cultural Reconnection

CULTURE

Norine Holguin

5/4/20232 min read

grayscale photo of skull on wooden surface
grayscale photo of skull on wooden surface

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) plays a vital role in ensuring the respectful treatment of Native American human remains and associated funerary objects. Recently, the Department of Anthropology and Geography at Colorado State University completed an inventory of human remains and funerary objects, leading to significant implications for Native American tribes. In this blog post, we explore the importance of repatriation and the cultural affiliation between the remains and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians of the Santa Ynez Reservation, California.

Understanding NAGPRA:

Enacted in 1990, NAGPRA is a federal law that aims to protect Native American cultural heritage by requiring the repatriation of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to affiliated tribes and organizations. The law recognizes the profound connection between Native American communities and their ancestral remains and artifacts.

Inventory Completion at Colorado State University

The Department of Anthropology and Geography at Colorado State University conducted an inventory of human remains and associated funerary objects in their possession. The remains, believed to be Native American, were removed from the coastal region of Southern California. After meticulous assessment and consultation with relevant parties, a cultural affiliation was established.

Cultural Affiliation Determination

The human remains, representing one individual of Native American ancestry, have a strong geographic connection to the coastal region of Southern California. Furthermore, the associated funerary objects, including marine shells and animal bones, strengthen the cultural affiliation to a coastal Indian Tribe in the area.

The Role of Consultation

Consultation with Native American tribes and organizations is a crucial aspect of NAGPRA implementation. In this case, the California Native American Heritage Commission and Dr. Wendy Teeter, UCLA Repatriation Coordinator, were actively involved in the consultation process. Although other Indian groups were invited, some did not participate.

The Importance of Repatriation

Repatriation of human remains and associated funerary objects is an essential step towards healing historical traumas and reconnecting Native American communities with their ancestral heritage. For the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians of the Santa Ynez Reservation, California, this repatriation signifies a reaffirmation of their cultural identity and sacred ties to their ancestors.

Engagement of Lineal Descendants and Requestors:

NAGPRA encourages lineal descendants and representatives of Native American tribes to request the transfer of control of human remains and funerary objects. By doing so, they can ensure that their ancestors are laid to rest with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Conclusion

The completion of the inventory at Colorado State University marks a significant milestone in the journey towards repatriation. As we move forward, it is crucial to uphold the principles of NAGPRA, promoting the rightful return of Native American human remains and cultural objects to their communities of origin. By honoring these ancestral ties, we contribute to the preservation and continuation of Native American cultural heritage for future generations.

Citation:

O’Brien, Melanie. “Notice of Inventory Completion: Department of Anthropology and Geography, Colorado State University.” Federal Register, Volume 87 Issue 181 , 20 Sept. 2022, www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2022-09-20/html/2022-20296.htm.

Related Stories