Indiana University and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma will co-host the National Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Review Committee meeting June 7 and 8. The conference, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day in the Indiana Memorial Union’s Alumni Hall, is free and open to the public.
According to an IU press release, the conference is one of the first times the review meeting has been co-hosted with a tribe and university. Additionally, IU NAGPRA Director Jayne-Leigh Thomas said the meeting has never been hosted in Indiana and that she has been working to get the meeting hosted in the state for almost eight years.
“We’ve been working together with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma since 2014 on all different sorts of repatriation projects, so we decided to co-host the meeting,” Thomas said. “It’s a reflection of the strong relationships that we have with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and a reflection of our strong commitment to NAGPRA compliance work.”
Thomas said her department is mainly working with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma to organize the event. Sherene Goatson, director of IU First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, said in an email members of the cultural center will be attending the meeting in June.
“We support the IU NAGPRA team and we look forward to attending this event,” Goatson said in an email. “Director Jayne-Leigh Thomas and her team have done a wonderful job organizing this event.”
In 1990, Congress enacted NAGPRA and mandated museums and federal agencies receiving federal funds, including public universities, to repatriate Native American cultural items to lineal descendants, recognized tribes, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian organizations. According to the Bureau of Land Management, these items include human remains, sacred and funerary objects and objects of cultural patrimony.
The NAGPRA Federal Advisory Review Committee monitors and reviews the implementation of NAGPRA across the country. Members of the seven-person board are appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. Three members are appointed from nominations from tribes, Native Hawaiian organizations and traditional Native American religious leaders. Three members are appointed from nominations submitted by a national museum or scientific institution and one member is appointed from a list created by the other members of the board.
Thomas said the meeting will feature presentations from a variety of organizations including tribes and universities. Thomas said the attendees of the meeting will also likely discuss current NAGPRA regulations and the review committee’s report to Congress regarding progress of NAGPRA implementation. She also said there will be a public comment section.
A working agenda for the meeting, which may be updated closer to the event, from the U.S. Department of the Interior states presentations from the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Indiana University are planned for June 7. The agenda states presentations from Illinois State Museum, University of Kentucky, the DOI Bureau of Land Management, the DOI Bureau of Indian Affairs, Tennessee Valley Authority, University of Missouri and the Field Museum in Chicago are planned for June 8.
The agenda also includes disposition requests for Vassar College, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, Detroit Institute of Arts and the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas. According to the National Parks Service, disposition is the act of transferring an object to the possession of another and requests for disposition allow the Review Committee to “recommend specific actions for developing a process for the disposition of culturally unidentifiable human remains.”
The meeting comes several months after the publication of a ProPublica investigation in January, which reported that IU maintained the fifth-largest collection of unrepatriated remains in the country. In April, a group of Senators, including senators from the Senate Committee on Indiana Affairs, issued letters to five institutions — the University of California Berkley, Harvard University, the Ohio History Connection, the Illinois State Museum and Indiana University — scrutinizing slow repatriation efforts. Senators asked the institutions to respond to a list of questions within 60 days.
A recent IDS investigation reported IU’s NAGPRA office has improved its compliance efforts in the last decade, adding five more full-time employees under Thomas’ leadership. The office has also worked with tribal representatives and completed several major repatriation efforts — such as completing the repatriation of human remains unearthed from the Angel Mounds National Historic Landmark. However, several current and former faculty members alleged university administrators pushed NAGPRA responsibilities onto anthropology faculty who were not prepared to complete the repatriation work.
Thomas said the recent Senate probe and investigation will likely not be an official topic of conversation during review committee proceedings.
“The Senate looking at certain institutions really has nothing to do with the review committee or national NAGPRA,” Thomas said. “It’s kind of an outside look. There might be institutions in attendance that received the Senate letter, but whether they’ll present, I’m not sure.”
Thomas said she would encourage students, IU faculty and staff and members of the public who are interested in anthropology, archaeology, museums studies or NAGPRA work to attend the meeting. There is no RSVP required to attend the meeting, however members of the public may register to attend an opening reception here. The opening reception will take place June 6 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at McCalla School, which now houses the University Collections.
Those who want to attend the meeting virtually can register here.