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265 Chapter 11 The Impact of NAGPRA on Communities JAN I. BERNSTEIN “We are all connected—even if you can’t see how, just being in the world changes the world.” —Douglas Brooks1 NAGPRA is nothing new What do we as human beings desire more than anything else? After our basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing are met, we desire to be recognized as human, and in that recognition we want to be treated with dignity and respect, to be seen as nothing less than human. The history of the United States is filled with chapters in which groups of people were marginalized and had to fight for the same basic rights that were afforded to the dominant culture. Among those groups are blacks, women, and immigrants including Irish, Italians, and Jews who were discriminated against, and in some cases treated as property. Native Americans were not only marginalized, but also demonized and targeted for extinction. They literally had prices put on their heads. It took a civil war to end slavery and a civil rights movement filled with conflict to gain a semblance of parity for black Americans. It took the sacrifices of the women’s suffrage movement for women to get the right to vote, and on August 26, 1920, the Senate ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And it took the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to give Native Americans and Native Hawaiians the same rights that everyone else in the U.S. possessed over their ancestors and cultural items. NAGPRA did not bestow new rights or special rights, instead it simply codified rights that, under common law and property law, should have been extended to Native Americans and Native Hawaiians. U.S. law is based on French, English, and Spanish common law and under common law we all have the right of disposition of our dead relatives and their funerary objects. Until NAGPRA, this right was denied to Native Americans and Native Hawaiians when their relatives were discovered either inadvertently or during an intentional excavation, and then collected, curated, studied, and exhibited. Prior to the signing 266 CHAPTER 11 of NAGPRA on November 16, 1990, basic property law protections were frequently denied to Native Americans and Native Hawaiians, when they would seek return of religious items and items of central cultural import from museums and governmental agencies. What does it say about a people who do not extend the same rights and protections to all citizens? Giving voice to untold stories I am neither a scholar nor academic. I do not have a thorough grasp of the scholarship , nor have I read all of what has been written about NAGPRA over the past twenty years. What I do bring to this chapter is over two decades of experience working in NAGPRA compliance. In 1986, I was selected by Dr. Robert Kautz to join his team at the State of California Parks Department, which was charged with reporting on their holdings of Native American human remains and funerary objects. When that project was completed, I moved to New York City in 1988, where I worked as an assistant curator at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Before I left the museum, it was poised to repatriate wampum to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. In 1990, I moved to Denver, Colorado, where I still reside. After completing a graduate degree in museum and field studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and partnering in a museum consulting business, I joined the staff of the University of Denver MuseumofAnthropologyin1995.Iservedforeightyearsascollectionsmanagerand NAGPRA coordinator, and as adjunct faculty in the Department of Anthropology’s Museum Studies graduate program. By the time I left the university, in 2003, I knew that I wanted to focus exclusively on NAGPRA, and that is how I came to found Bernstein & Associates NAGPRA Consultants. To begin the process of writing this chapter, I interviewed the people who, like me, have worked in NAGPRA for many years, and who also implement it. Out of those interviews, as you might expect, came stories of how NAGPRA has had a profound impact on the lives of those of us who work on its implementation on a daily basis. But, what you might not expect, are the stories of how NAGPRA has touched the lives of people who have nothing to do with its direct implementation. In the telling of these stories, you will also see how NAGPRA has cast a light on the collection practices...


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