The Department of the Interior has announced that they will turn over Indian remains and artifacts currently in the possession of federal museums, even when the tribal origin of those remains has not been identified. Those remains will be returned to the tribe that has a “proven presence on the land” where the remains were found.
This raises the question of whether the Kennewick man will now be returned. I’m astonished that the Kennewick man has not been discussed on this blog, but the deal is that 9,000 year old human remains were found in Washington state and a Native American tribe filed a claim under NAGPRA to those remains. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the tribe, explaining that the tribe failed to establish a sufficient cultural connection or kinship to the person whose remains were found. The practical effect was to allow archaeologists to continue scientific studies of the Kennewick man, against the wishes of the Native American tribe.
The only news I’ve seen so far on the announcement follows:
The Department of the Interior has decided to turn over to Indian tribes and Native Hawaiians the human remains and artifacts currently in possession of museums and natural history collections. Taking effect May 14, the decision includes remains that cannot be traced to a particular tribe or organization. These remains will be given to tribes that had a proven presence on the land from which the remains were taken.
Interior Department officials also announced they are streamlining the process by which it returns remains and artifacts. Previously, the Secretary of the Interior relied on a special review committee to decide how to process requests from tribes. That committee has now been eliminated.
The changes are part of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, which requires all museums and federal agencies to identify Indian cultural items in their collections. As of last year, the remains of almost 40,000 people have been registered.
In response to the Interior Department rule changes, the University of Michigan said it will return the remains of nearly 1,400 Indians, some of them more than 3,000 years old, to various tribes.
It is still unclear what will become of Kennewick Man, a 9,000-year-old skeleton that was found on the Columbia River in Washington State in 1996. The remains were the subject of a lawsuit, settled in by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004, that denied local tribes ownership because it could not be proven that Kennewick Man belonged to a tribe.