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Grant for Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act training

October 28, 2014

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $194,685 grant to Indiana University researchers to study the professional training that scholars receive related to understanding, appreciating and complying with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The human rights legislation, enacted by Congress in 1990, establishes the rights of federally recognized U.S. tribes to reclaim certain cultural property held by government agencies and many academic institutions and museums. The law created a process whereby tribes may request and receive collections containing Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony; it also requires scholars in the archaeological, anthropological and museum sciences to consult with tribes throughout the process of repatriation.

Principal investigator for the grant is April Sievert, director of the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, a center supported by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. She is also a senior lecturer in anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences. Co-principal investigators are K. Anne Pyburn, Provost Professor of anthropology, and Jayne-Leigh Thomas, director of IU’s Office of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

“Even after more than 20 years, many scientists, museum personnel and students are often unsure how to comply with the regulations while using materials that are subject to NAGPRA in their research,” Sievert says. “We at Indiana University see a need for additional training about NAGPRA so future professionals are better equipped to appreciate the spirit of the law and work within its provisions. While we are committed to fulfilling the expectations of the law and consulting with tribes in our own research and scholarship, it would be even better to see the law as a door into new kinds of research involving tribal partners.”

The NSF grant provides funding for one year, in which the IU team will conduct surveys to assess current training; develop a database of contact information and existing training materials; produce a white paper on the alignment of the law with the Code of Conduct of the Register of Professional Archaeologists; and distribute a newsletter to tribes, colleges and cultural resource personnel.

The project will also include collegium meetings at which faculty, students and consultants will discuss ways in which archaeological ethics are taught and learned in relation to the requirements of the law. IU researchers note that complying with the law can raise ethical challenges related to reconciling standard research approaches with indigenous worldviews that may use origin narratives, oral histories and cultural traditions as sources of knowledge about the past.

IU resources expected to support the project include an established community of researchers engaged in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, which encourages the use of evidence-based research methods to investigate and improve teaching and learning; and the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, which supports classroom innovation by IU faculty and graduate students.

Further development of a toolkit for improving education and mentoring with respect to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act will depend on the availability of future funding.