Congressional testimony on NAGPRA

Friends of America's Past has posted their written testimony before Congress on proposed changes to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The testimony and supporting letters from some of the scientists involved in the Kennewick lawsuit are indexed on this page.

From the Friends testimony:

You are now being asked to adopt an amendment that would change NAGPRA's definition of Native American to make it applicable not only to people and things that are now indigenous to this country, but also to anything that was indigenous to the United States at any time in the past no matter how long ago. In other words, all prehistoric remains and cultural items found on federal land would be subject to the law. Even remains as old as Kennewick Man, or even older, would become Native American by definition. Scientists would have no right to study them, and they could be given to tribal claimants to whom they have no biological or cultural connection. This is no small change (Friends testimony, p. 8).

Congress always finds a way to make laws more clear, and it usually involves making them worse.

I especially like this passage (11):

You may also be told that NAGPRA is human rights legislation and this amendment will do nothing more than support those rights. The proposed amendment does exactly the opposite. It is not a human right to control the disposition of remains over which one has no connection. We ask that you consider the grave disrespect that you will do to ancient cultures if, by the stroke of your legislative pens, you make it possible to eliminate knowledge of their existence. To do so is a form of cultural genocide. See Alison Stenger letter. It imposes on ancient people the beliefs, name and culture of persons with whom they have nothing in common, and who may be descendants of ancient enemies - enemies who may have caused the other people to become extinct. Before you vote on this amendment to NAGPRA, we ask you to consider the consequences to the dead. Do they not have a right to have their stories told and preserved for future generations to learn from?

Some of the letters from associated scientists have some interesting pearls as well. Regardless of what one thinks about the Kennewick case in particular, the proposed change in NAGPRA would damage the study of New World populations and their origins.