Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains?

Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains?

Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains?

Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains?


In the past decade the repatriation of Native American skeletal remains and funerary objects has become a lightning rod for radically opposing views about cultural patrimony and the relationship between Native communities and archaeologists. In this unprecedented volume, Native Americans and non-Native Americans within and beyond the academic community offer their views on repatriation and the ethical, political, legal, cultural, scholarly, and economic dimensions of this hotly debated issue. While historians and archaeologists debate continuing non-Native interests and obligations, Native American scholars speak to the key cultural issues embedded in their ancestral pasts. A variety of sometimes explosive case studies are considered, ranging from Kennewick Man to the repatriation of Zuni Ahayu:da. Also featured is a detailed discussion of the background, meaning, and applicability of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, as well as the text of the act itself.


If they've lost their lands, it's because they could not come up with the proper ancestors.—Ariel Dorfman, "The Lone Ranger's Last Ride”

Telling Stories

Q. Is it true that the valley of the Mississippi shows signs of the passage of a race of men more civilised than those who inhabit it today?

A. Yes. I have often come across fortified works which bear evidence of the existence of a people who had reached a fairly high state of civilisation. Whence did that people come? Whither did it vanish? There is a mystery there. But one cannot doubt that it existed, and nothing indicates that the Indians of our day are the remnants thereof.

Thus Sam Houston responded to the queries of Alexis de Tocqueville on the last day of 1831 (Tocqueville 1971: 254—55). the visiting Frenchman dutifully recorded the answers in what became known to scholars as Notebook E: Miscellaneous papers which cannot be easily classified. Notes. Reflections. Ideas. Which category of the miscellaneous Tocqueville had in mind for Houston's opinions of the moundbuilders of America is unknown, and understandably so, for his informant was transmitting widely shared notions that were at once unclassifiable and—allowing for differences of detail— seemingly unquestioned. They were, indeed, cultural reflections: an American self-dialogue performed over several generations, noted and ingrained by the 1830s, and constantly confirmed through the most common activities: digging and collecting, touching and telling. Thus was a democratic archaeology—an archaeology of democracy—formed and practiced early in the Republic; thus was a founding American myth established and rooted.

In its fullness the myth lasted only another half century, until its explo-

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