Much of the material below relates to administrative matters. The misuse of NAGPRA is covered in point #4 -- Webmaster
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing:
Implementation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

Tuesday, April 20, 1999, 9:30 a.m., 216 Hart Senate Bldg.

Statement of the Society for American Archaeology
the American Association of Physical Anthropologists

Keith W. Kintigh, Ph.D., SAA President

Mr. Chairman, the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) thanks the Committee for this opportunity to comment on the current state of NAGPRA implementation. SAA is the leading organization of professional archaeologists in the United States. Starting in 1989, SAA led the scientific community in working with congressional staff on the language of NAGPRA. We provided testimony at Senate and House Committee hearings and helped form a coalition of scientific organizations and Native American groups that strongly supported NAGPRA's enactment. Since that time, we have closely monitored its implementation and have consistently provided comment to the Department of the Interior and to the NAGPRA Review Committee. We urge our members always to work toward the effective and timely implementation of the Act. We are joined in this testimony by the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, which is the leading organization of physical anthropologists in the United States and which also supported the enactment of NAGPRA.

On behalf of the scientific community, we address four major issues: (1) maintenance of NAGPRA coordination functions within the National Park Service's (NPS) Archeology and Ethnography Program; (2) problems with federal agency compliance; (3) extensions for museums that are making good-faith efforts to complete their inventories; and (4) problems associated with the implementation of the Act's definition of cultural affiliation.

Nine years ago, I stood before this Committee to present SAA's testimony on S.1980, the bill that became NAGPRA. Reflecting on the last nine years, I think that, despite the problems that remain, the Committee should be proud of what NAGPRA has accomplished.

In the interests of improving NAGPRA's implementation, we now turn to a brief discussion of the four issues.

1. Coordination of NAGPRA Functions by the Departmental Consulting Archeologist

The Secretary of the Interior has delegated responsibility for NAGPRA coordination to the Departmental Consulting Archeologist (DCA) who is manager of the NPS Archeology and Ethnography Program. Some have suggested that this policy should be reconsidered in light of what has been characterized as a conflict of interest by the DCA. In our opinion, any such move is inadvisable as it would impede and delay rather than enhance and accelerate the implementation of NAGPRA.

2. Federal Agency Compliance

SAA and AAPA join the NAGPRA Review Committee, NCAI, tribes, and museums in expressing our dismay over the lack of compliance of some federal agencies with the plain requirements of NAGPRA. For example, despite the statutory requirements that agencies complete their inventories in five years (by November 1995), a representative of a key federal agency testified to the NAGPRA Review Committee that it would take decades to complete its inventories. Further, the lack of timely completion of inventories by a number of agencies is not the only compliance problem. Agency determinations of cultural affiliation are often made without adequate consultations with tribes and without reasonable efforts to compile and weigh either scientific or traditional sources of evidence.

As NAGPRA provides no enforcement provisions affecting agencies, we would ask Congress to employ the means at its disposal to induce or to compel agency compliance. While some appropriations are needed, punitive measures also may be required. In pursuing this objective, the Committee should ensure that agencies do not achieve compliance with NAGPRA at the expense of other critical cultural resource programs.

3. Extensions for Museums to Complete NAGPRA Inventories of Human Remains and Associated Funerary Objects

The Department of the Interior is evidently considering or has decided upon a blanket denial of the six museum requests for extensions for the completion of inventories. SAA and AAPA believe that denial of extensions to those museums that have very large collections and have demonstrated a good-faith effort(7) to comply with the law would be contrary to the objectives of NAGPRA. Such a decision would damage productive cooperative arrangements that have developed between tribes and these museums. It also seems unduly harsh in light of the federal agency problems highlighted above.

When inventories are done with care and thorough consultation, museums are able to assign cultural affiliation to remains that, with a less intensive effort, would be deemed "culturally unidentifiable." Given the latitude provided by the law, it seems inevitable that blanket denial of extensions would lead to more remains being placed in the immensely troublesome "culturally unidentifiable" category. In this eventuality, a much larger burden is placed on a tribe to challenge the museum's finding and to show that a preponderance of the evidence supports its cultural affiliation. Further, by cutting short ongoing consultations, such a denial would do a disservice to both the tribes and the museums. However, we would suggest that it is appropriate at this point for the Department to set a relatively high standard for what constitutes a good-faith effort.

To this testimony we have attached a 6 April 1999 letter to Secretary Babbitt presenting, in a more complete form, SAA's assessment of the need for inventory extensions and SAA's argument of why a blanket denial is not a productive response to understandable Native American frustrations.

4. Cultural Affiliation and the Issue of Joint Affiliation

Cultural affiliation is a cornerstone of NAGPRA because it provides the legitimacy for most repatriation claims. A critical problem in NAGPRA implementation is the widespread expansion, by both agencies and museums, of the statutory definition of cultural affiliation beyond legally defensible limits. Further, while the law requires evidence demonstrating cultural affiliation, agencies and museums often offer little or no evidence or argument supporting their determinations. The evidentiary problem has three components: (1) insufficient consultation with tribes and consideration of traditional evidence they can offer; (2) inadequate attention collecting readily available scientific evidence; and (3) a lack of thoughtful deliberation of this evidence to arrive at a sound determination of cultural affiliation.

In a April 13, 1999 letter attached to this testimony, SAA asked Secretary Babbitt to undertake a legal review of the issue of joint affiliation by broad collections of tribes. Our letter discusses the linkage between the scope of "cultural affiliation" and the issues surrounding the disposition of "culturally unidentifiable" human remains. Pending that review, we ask for a suspension of actions that involve determinations of joint affiliation with a diverse group of modern tribes. Following that review, we ask that NPS provide more oversight and issue written guidance on determinations of cultural affiliation and joint affiliation in order to foster better compliance with the law. We also would encourage the Senate Committee to take whatever steps it believes would be helpful to encourage better conformance with the law. We suggest that procedural shortcuts and indefensible interpretations of the definitions have already led to problems such as that of the "Kennewick Man," and have the potential to lead to many more problems in the future.


In conclusion, we offer five recommendations.

SAA and AAPA thank you for your consideration of our comments on the implementation of NAGPRA.


1. The expertise that permits this articulation is becoming increasingly important because of the urgency of repatriation issues associated with new excavations and inadvertent discoveries covered by NAGPRA Section 3 and by other federal law.

2. In a November 13, 1998 letter to Secretary Babbitt, NAGPRA Review Committee chair Tessie Naranjo conveyed the Committee's unanimous sense that the Program has not been given adequate funds or staff to accomplish the tasks it has been assigned.

3. For example, NPS has completed processing inventories from only about a third of the 733 institutions that have submitted inventories. Of the 1032 NAGPRA summaries received by NPS by 30 November 1998, only 38 are in the database intended as a clearinghouse for information and only 57 of 733 inventories are in the database.

4. If the DCA had such authority, we would not expect the dramatic inconsistency that is seen in the cultural affiliations of closely related materials that are held by different institutions.

5. In the November 13, 1998 letter to Secretary Babbitt mentioned in a previous footnote, Review Committee chair Tessie Naranjo strongly praised the dedication and professionalism of the NPS Archeology and Ethnography Program staff and noted its role in the successful implementation of NAGPRA.

6. Tribes received 116 grants for $6.5 million, while museums received 89 grants for $4.2 million. Further, most of the museum grants include funding to pay tribal expenses for consultation.

7. This would include an active staff effort dedicated to the inventory completion, a strong record of consultation with tribes, and submission of completed inventories to tribes and of Notices of Inventory Completion to NPS.

8. A particular problem is the complete lack of federal support for tribal implementation of Section 3 (new excavations and inadvertent discoveries) repatriation issues.

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