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NAGPRA | News and Comment

Will Science Lose More Ground?

Meeting of the NAGPRA Review Committee
The University of Tulsa, Oklahoma
May 31 - June 2, 2002

The National Park Service, the Department of the Interior, is expected to present at the meeting proposed regulations for disposition of culturally unaffiliated and unidentifiable human remains, including ancient and scientifically important remains such as the Kennewick Man skeleton. The regulations are being proposed under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act ("NAGPRA"). Reports are circulating that the proposed regulations may try to extend NAGPRA's provisions to artifacts and human remains found on private land. Up to now, NAGPRA's new discovery provisions have applied only to federal lands and federally-recognized tribal lands. The regulations may also try to severely restrict scientific study, which is currently not prohibited under NAGPRA.

Controversy is also brewing over possible censorship and suppression of views by the Review Committee. On April 10, 2002, the NAGPRA Review Committee published advisory findings and recommendations regarding disposition of the 9400 year-old human skeletal remains and funerary objects from Spirit Cave, Nevada. The committee's published findings and recommendations omitted the minority (dissenting) opinion of Dr. John O'Shea, who represents the scientific community. Dr O'Shea reportedly was not consulted before his dissent was deleted from the published finding. He is reported to have written a letter to the Nevada Bureau of Land Management to clarify his position. This incident adds to questions concerning the NAGPRA Review Committee's ability to fairly and objectively balance the interests of various native communities, scientists, and museums. Armand Minthorn, Chair of the Review Committee, is a leader of one of the tribes demanding custody of the Kennewick Man skeleton. He has been an outspoken critic of scientific research.

Background on Spirit Cave: In August 2000, the Nevada Bureau of Land Management released an extensive report concluding that the remains of the Spirit Cave Man, who lived more than 9400 years ago, could not be culturally affiliated with the claiming Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe. The NAGPRA Review Committee heard the tribe's complaints about this determination during their November 2001 meeting. The committee's vote was 6-1 in favor of overturning the BLM decision and recommending transfer of the remains of the Spirit Cave Man to the claiming tribe. See the committee's finding at:

We will post the proposed regulations as soon as they become available.

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