Artifact of the Week — February 1, 2024

Posted by on February 7, 2024

NAGPRA Compliance

“Since 1990, Federal law has provided for the protection and return of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. By enacting NAGPRA, Congress recognized that human remains of any ancestry “must at all times be treated with dignity and respect.” Congress also acknowledged that human remains and other cultural items removed from Federal or tribal lands belong, in the first instance, to lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations. With this law, Congress sought to encourage a continuing dialogue between museums and Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations and to promote a greater understanding between the groups while at the same time recognizing the important function museums serve in society by preserving the past. (US Senate Report 101-473).”

These powerful words send a message to museums and collectors across the United States concerning the respect we must treat the Native American treasures we are given and choose to display. With recent news articles related to NAGPRA compliance flying around the Internet, it has come to the attention of the staff at Old Independence Regional Museum how caring and thoughtful our patrons are. We have received several texts and emails concerning the recent article focusing on the Third Annual White House Tribal Nations Summit and want our patrons to rest assured we began the process in autumn 2023 of speaking with our local NAGPRA coordinator via the University of Arkansas.

To date, we have sent photos of all items within our inventory of Native American design and history that have not previously been recognized as covered by NAGPRA guidelines. Our liaison has reached out to the two local tribes most vested in these items: the Caddo Nation, and the Quapaw Nation. Representatives from both parties have been in contact with us and we are working closely with both Nations to ensure our collections 1. Can be shown with dignity and 2. Will be repatriated if necessary.

We have had a number of archeologists examine the items in question and they have agreed the pottery and points (the bulk of our collection) can definitely be identified by a time frame – Mississippian Era – but not directly to a Nation. Recent research has pointed out that many pieces of pottery are indicative of a specific Nation, but trade between Nations cannot be discounted. In that case, which Nation do the objects truly belong? This question is not taken lightly; it is the discretion of the individual Tribes as to where these objects truly belong.

OIRM Native American Items
OIRM Native American Items

OIRM is more than willing to comply with NAGPRA regulations. We are excited about transforming our current Shawnee Room into a more inclusive Mississippian-Era showcase where we focus not only on individual Nations, but the archeological methods now in place to study the heritage of these cultures. We appreciate the concern our patrons have for this issue, and we will follow through on the recommendations of the Nations whose artifacts we represent. Thank you very much for reaching out.

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