Native American Repartition

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Tensions between science and religion have recurred throughout history. The issues of what to do with the remains of our ancestors are viewed differently by people. Some people believe that the burial site should be left untouched. Among this group of people fall the Native Americans. Archaeologists, on the other hand, think we should uncover the burial site to be able to discover more about the history of the land from which the grave lies. The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act was signed into law on November 1990 by President George Bush. This legislation is the result of decades of effort by American Indians to protect the burial sites of their ancestors against grave desecration and to recover the remains of ancestors and sacred cultural objects in the possession or under the control of federal agencies and museums. In November 1993, museums holding certain Native American artifacts were required to prepare written summaries of their collections for distribution to culturally affiliated tribes. In November 1995, museums were required to prepare detailed inventories of their Native American collection. This act is historically significant because it represents a fundamental change in social attitudes toward Native people by museum curators, the scientific community, and Congress. Congress attempted to strike a balance between the interest in scientific examination of skeletal remains and the recognition that Native Americans have a religious and spiritual reverence for the remains of their ancestors (4). The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act established Indian nations as the owners of Native American cultural objects, including human remains, which were found on Federal land. It requires that the American Indians provide substantial amounts of information to validate their claims. However, only federally recognized tribes are recognized under this act, so if you are an unrecognized tribe good luck claiming anything that belongs to you. After this, the existing anthropological literature will be consulted. In some instances, Indians will disagree with the literature and take steps to correct it. Indians are also likely to provide additional information that had not yet been documented. The interpretations will be written from the perspective of the claiming tribe, how they view the world, and their perception of significance of objects in religious ceremonial rites. While some might raise the question of scientific objectivity, no one will deny that this perspective had often been lacking in the literature. These interpretations are bound to bring about new insights which will challenge earlier assumptions (5).

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