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115 Chapter 5 Amending Wonder: Museums and Twenty Years of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act PATRICIA CAPONE Hundreds of museums in the United States have implemented the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) for more than twenty years. My experience with NAGPRA is based on just one of those museums subject to the act, albeit one which stewards a large and broad collection—the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. This experience includes implementing the act with Indian tribes, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiian organizations, and collections from nearly every state and most aspects of North America’s human history. The collections at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology represent a long history of collecting in the United States, and tend toward systematic collecting. While the size and setting of this museum, within a long-standing university, may be different from more recent academic institutions or small museums, its NAGPRA implementation is of a breadth and scope that resonates with a variety of interests. While practicing NAGPRA at this museum has been broad in some ways, the breadth of possible NAGPRA experiences reaches far beyond. NAGPRA’s application in its many forms unfolds in a spectrum of experiences, from respect for new understanding and its relevance for youth, to learning from past atrocities or malignancies and grieving their scars. NAGPRA’s potential for learning resonates in a university museum setting. NAGPRA’s contribution to knowledge reaches beyond the collections that museums steward, to raising awareness of the multiple viewpoints regarding them. NAGPRA brings opportunities to develop sustainable intercultural epistemologies. Material objects straddle the physical, metaphysical, and more. In NAGPRA’s context, this broadens understanding. Museums’ assembling of new ways of thinking, generating new views on assembling objects, and setting themselves as meeting grounds of ideas and incubators of intercultural thought amends museums’ wonder. Toward this premise I offer a selected retrospective on 116 CHAPTER 5 twenty years of museums’ implementation of NAGPRA and my perceptions of future directions. Defining museums and explaining the history of American collections sets the context for discussing twenty years of museums and NAGPRA. First, differences between a commonplace definition of museums and NAGPRA’s definition of museum require a brief explanation to set out NAGPRA’s purview. For much of the history of museums, encounters with objects have evoked a sense of wonder through the physical experience of being with the object and through thinking about the layers of meaning which objects induce.1 Through time, American museums also revise their approaches to collecting based on a variety of factors, including society’s inclinations , intellectual directions, and most recently, NAGPRA. Consequently, NAGPRA revises how museums impart wonder. NAGPRA brings a social and civil conscience to wonder, and in some cases, critical awareness of the dark side to wonder’s baggage. NAGPRA simultaneously extends critical reflection to the practice of stewarding objects and thinking about the uses of heritage in American society. NAGPRA is a tool of consciousness-raising. My experience is that NAGPRA’s societal impact can increase the sustainability of stewardship of material objects, and therefore make museums more effective settings for learning and knowledge development. What is a museum under NAGPRA? NAGPRA defines museums as institutions which receive federal funding and which are in the United States of America (25 USC 3001). NAGPRA’s definition of a museum diverges from a commonplace definition of a museum and that cited by America’s largest museum professional organization, the American Association of Museums (AAM). The Association defines a museum as making “a unique contribution to the public by collecting, preserving, and interpreting the things of this world.” 2 The Association reckons there are approximately 17,500 museums in the United States,3 which AAM further describes as: “ . . . cultural and educational institutions —community-centered places for remembering, discovering, and learning. They present the best of the world’s culture, heritage, and achievement. . . . help preserve the past, define the present, and educate for the future.”4 One of the main distinctions between NAGPRA’s definition of a museum and a common understanding of a museum is NAGPRA’s stipulation that a museum receive federal funding. Even where the museum itself may not receive federal funding, if it is governed by a larger entity, such as a university, which does receive funding, the museum could be subject to NAGPRA. Additionally, many institutions, which may or may not consider themselves to be museums, qualify as museums under NAGPRA. For example...


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