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Archaeological Research Vs. Native American Rights

    Protection of Graves

    • The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was enacted in response to Native American concerns about the treatment of grave sites and human remains. The act grants ownership of objects in graves and human remains to the tribes so the bodies and items removed by archaeologists can be returned and reburied. Museums and individuals in possession of artifacts or remains must return them to the lands where they were found.

    Archaeology and Oral Tradition

    • The archaeological community has developed greater respect for the customs and traditions of indigenous people. Researchers are careful to not refer to oral traditions as "myths" or "legends." Archaeologists try to accommodate Native American restrictions regarding ancestral lands where possible. Native Americans are also taking a more active role in the scientific investigation and documentation of their history, culture and traditions. Documentation of occupation of traditional lands through archaeological research also helps Native Americans establish claims to disputed territory.

    Access to Protected Land

    • Archaeological research teams must apply for a permit with the federal land manager to dig on Native American lands. The tribe will be notified that a permit has been requested and given an opportunity to object to the permit. Federal law protects designated ancestral lands and provides the indigenous people the opportunity to take active role in determining when, where and who may conduct archaeological research on their land. Native Americans are also active participants in monitoring digs.

    Competing Interests

    • Archaeologists assert the significance of ancient burial sites and artifacts to better understand human migration to the North American continent. Tribes understand the importance of archaeological research and often participate in research activities, but tradition and religious considerations are usually paramount. Archaeologists and indigenous people often disagree about the treatment of human remains. The discovery of an ancient human in Washington, called the Kinnewick Man, resulted in claims to the body and legal action by both scientific organizations and Native Americans.

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