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Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
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Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is a piece of American legislation passed in 1990 requiring that the remains of all Native American peoples be returned to their repective peoples if/when they have been excavated, where the archeological team is allowed a short time for analysis before the remains must be returned. This legislation also applies to many Native American artifacts, especially burial items and religious objects. It has necessitated massive cataloguing of the Native American collections of many museums in order to identify the living heirs of remains and artefacts.

Archaeologists charge that NAGPRA has severely limited their ability to complete their research. Most, however, agree that this legislation is necessary in order to show respect for Native religion and different religious beliefs in general. Contemporary American archaeologists believe that many of their predecessors were basically grave robbers, and some Native Americans believe that that label can be applied to the profession today as well. In some cases, NAGPRA-mandated repatriation has greatly improved relations between archaeologists and Native Americans, and this improved trust has occasionally been reported to have paid dividends in archaeological knowledge.

There have been some conflicts raised by this legislation, most notably the case of Kennewick man, where the direct descendants of the person/remains can not be certain. Kennewick man is a skeleton found near Kennewick, Washington. The Umatilla, Colville, Yakima, and Nez Perce tribes claim that Kennewick Man is their ancestor, and that they should thus be permitted to rebury him. Archaeologists claim that, because of Kennewick Man's great age and his caucasoid appearance, there is no evidence of sufficient connection between him and the modern tribes. The age of the remains makes them very scientifically valuable.

The NAGPRA Database is located at http://www.cast.uark.edu/products/NAGPRA/