As the University formalizes its policy on Native American human remains in its possession, Stephen Forrest, the University’s vice president for research, announced yesterday in a press release that his office will discuss all actions with the affiliated tribes before repatriating the remains.
A March 15 federal court ruling requires the University to return unidentifiable cultural remains to the tribe that historically resided on the land where the remains were found.
The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, a federal law in place since 1990, also calls on museums to keep public lists of Native American artifacts and remains in their possession. The act requires museums to work with tribes to determine what repatriation of objects is necessary.
In his announcement yesterday, Forrest also approved the nine suggestions of the Advisory Committee on Native American Culturally Unidentifiable Remains. Established by Forrest in October 2009, the committee outlined the procedure it feels the University should follow in returning human remains and funerary objects currently housed in the University’s Museum of Anthropology.
All of the committee’s suggestions are in-line with the finalization of NAGPRA human remains transfer rules, which were completed earlier this year, according to the release. The suggestions outline that the University will develop a clear policy on how to transfer Native American human remains and how to handle requests on information about the process.
Forrest made minimal changes to the recommendations, including halting all further research on culturally unidentifiable Native American remains and bringing in at least one committee member who is not affiliated with the University to bring a tribal perspective to the group, the release said.
Those changes made by Forrest were based on public feedback gathered in October, the release stated.
Other committee guidelines, all of which the Office of the Vice President for Research has agreed to follow, stipulate that if the University transfers culturally unidentifiable remains, it should also include funerary objects in the transfer. The guidelines also state that the human remains committee will remain a standing committee and continue to advise the OVPR.
The OVPR has also adopted a suggestion from tribal leaders, vowing to leave the remains in their current locations while deciding where to return them, according to the release.
Forrest said in the press release that his office believes it is important to include input from committee members with tribal knowledge as the University continues to develop its remains policy.
“We simply must get all parties talking to each other again,” Forrest said in the release. “We believe consultation, on all aspects of this sensitive issue, is critical to developing a shared understanding.”
According to the release, University officials will send letters explaining the new transfer process to tribal leaders by the end of the month.