In the Smaller Scope of Conscience: The Struggle for National Repatriation Legislation, 1986-1990

By Lewis, David | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

In the Smaller Scope of Conscience: The Struggle for National Repatriation Legislation, 1986-1990


Lewis, David, Oregon Historical Quarterly


IN THE SMALLER SCOPE OF CONSCIENCE: THE STRUGGLE FOR NATIONAL REPATRIATION LEGISLATION, 1986-1990

by C. Timothy McKeown

University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2013. Illustrations, photographs, notes, index, 288 pages. $55.00 cloth.

Political scientist C. Timothy McKeown, in his book In the Smaller Scope of Conscience, accesses the people and textual resources that document the various drafts, proposals, and revisions in support of tribal repatriation that culminated in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). He visits previous federal laws (Archaeological Resources Protection Act, National Historic Preservation Act, etc.) and their vulnerabilities --as well as the parallel and companion project that formed the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)--in order to address many of the moral and ethical issues which drove the legislators, tribal proponents, and political actors to undertake that difficult and labyrinthine project to pass NAGPRA. McKeown clearly documents tribal efforts to repatriate human remains and ceremonial objects, and examines responses by the scientific community and museums to the prospect of "losing" their collections. The activities and attitudes of the American public towards Native American burial goods are addressed throughout the book.

The book flows well and what is presented is a moving account of that key period of Congressional history for Indian law. In addition, McKeown made sure to include tribal perspectives which form the foundation of the law's enactment. The book is compelling, especially to those who have worked in anthropology, archaeology, Native studies, museum studies, and Cultural Resource Management (CRM). Many scientists and tribal staffers today know little about the formation of NAGPRA and the political wrangling that was necessary to persuade Congress to allow tribes to repatriate their ancestors' remains. It is important to note that NAGPRA is linked closely to the formation of NMAI--the creation of which spawned many associated efforts, including the consolidation of the Heye Foundation Collection. McKeown documents the negotiations in support of NMAI very well. His book should be a foundation for any CRM or museum studies class and is a great example of political anthropology studies. It has has great value for archaeologists and for museums--places where tribes continue to encounter difficulties and ignorance of the law. …

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