Kennewick Man and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)

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Kennewick Man is one of the most complete ancient skeletons found to date. The discovery initiated scholarly and public debate of the legal and ethical implications of anthropological study of Native American human remains. The Kennewick Man controversy has called into question the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)’s ability to balance tribal, museum, and archaeological interest in ancient human remains.
Kennewick Man was found on July 28, 1996 below Lake Wallula, a section of the Columbia River, in Washington. As the owners of the land, the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) had initial control of the remains. In early inspections Kennewick man was thought to be an early European settler because of the presence
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The repatriation process set up by NAGPRRA requires federal agencies and museums to identify items in their possession that are subject to the law and make inventories and summaries of them, they then must consult with lineal descendants and Indian tribes regarding the identification and cultural affiliation of the items, finally the agencies and museums must send notices to the appropriate group describing the lineal descendancy or culture affiliation and stating that the item may be repatriated. The law provides federal grants to assist with the process of documentation and repatriation of the items. NAGPRA also sets up a review committee to monitor and resolve disputes consisting of three Native American nominees, three nominees from scientific organizations or museums, and one mutually approved nomination. In addition, there are steps provided to follow for unclaimed items, unidentifiable items, intentional and inadvertent discoveries on both federal and tribal land. Penalties for noncompliance and illegal trafficking are also set up through the law. NAGPRA does not prohibit all scientific study or mandate the repatriation of the human remains and other cultural items subject to its coverage. What the law does do is provide…

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