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Arizona State Museum returns artifacts, remains to tribes

EMILY REID/Arizona Daily Wildcat

Tucson resident Marie Edwards takes time to read about the Navajo exhibit at the Arizona State Museum yesterday. Artifacts and sacred objects, which have been in the museum for more than 100 years, are being returned to Native American tribes as the result of a 1990 law requiring human federally finded repositories be returned to the tribes from which they came.

By Matthew Muhm
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesdsay Feb. 13, 2002

The Arizona State Museum is handing artifacts and human remains back to Arizona's American Indians after building up a collection for the past 100 years.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a federal law passed in 1990, requires that federally funded repositories - including museums return all human remains, sacred objects, funerary objects and objects of cultural patrimony back to the tribes from which they came.

The Arizona State Museum, 1013 E. University Blvd., is the primary repository for these types of archaeological objects found in Arizona.

The museum is currently in consultation with the Hopi Nation to consider a list of items for possible repatriation and has been in contact with all 21 tribes of Arizona in the past.

Joe Joaquin, cultural affairs specialist with the Tohono O'odham Nation, said the policy of repatriation has contributed to a growing trust between the O'odham people and the museum.

"For a long time, the trust wasn't there," he said. "The laws have helped us to get a better working relationship with the museum."

Lynn Teague, curator of archaeology at the museum, said the laws have built a closer relationship with American Indians than ever before.

"We are past the time when the museum considers a position without input from the tribes," she said.

NAGPRA is a federal law, but Arizona has its own law in place concerning the repatriation of sacred objects to the 21 tribes of Arizona. The state law was passed in July 1990 just before NAGPRA was passed into legislation and applies to artifacts from all burials more than 50 years old.

Although the laws were passed in 1990, Teague said the museum had long since stopped collecting sacred objects.

"We don't purchase religious items or accept donations of things that are sacred unless the tribes say we can keep it," she said.

Teague said there have only been two instances since 1970 when the museum acquired objects considered sacred. She said that in one instance, a spiritual specialist from one of the tribes offered sacred objects to the museum because he had no descendents.

She said the museum has been involved with 406 cases of objects subject to the state law, which has resulted in the reburial of thousands of artifacts over the last 11 1/2 years.

Although only objects related to sacred and burial sites are covered under the current law, Joaquin said he hopes that, one day a law will make all Indian artifacts eligible for repatriation.

"There are still things there that the law doesn't cover," he said. "Eventually, I hope we'll be looking into those things. We still have to work towards that."


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