Monday, April 23, 2007

New rule may help Native American tribes reclaim artifacts

[Source: Kevin Livelli, Columbia News Service] -- It's been nearly a dozen years since museums and federal agencies had to notify American Indian tribes about artifacts in their collections that might have been stolen from or lost by the tribes. But a new federal regulation may make it easier for the tribes to identify such objects. It was a hot and arid day in Pecos, N.M., when the elders and leaders of the Jemez Pueblo tribe welcomed an outsider into the fold: archaeologist William Whatley. Wearing colorful headbands, the old men sat down on the ground with Whatley. Then they began drawing images in the dust--images of bones, masks and pottery that had gone missing or been looted from the tribe. The elders implored Whatley to use his scientific knowledge to find the objects and help return them to the tribe. Not an easy task.

That was nearly 20 years ago. Now, for other tribes searching for lost or stolen items, the process may get a lot easier. In mid-March, the Department of the Interior's National NAGPRA program, which helps carry out the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, announced a regulation requiring museums, universities and federal agencies in possession of Native American art and artifacts to provide new lists of their inventories and to share them with all federally recognized tribes within six months. The rule, which takes effect April 20, marks the first time in a dozen years that museums and federal agencies have had to share with tribes what's in their collections. This process may uncover many items missing for years, and it may make encourage tribes to start making repatriation claims to get their artifacts back. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]