Alabama responds to tribal claims; Repatriation is progressing provisionally
Through Jenna kunze
Earlier this month, a federal committee determined that at least 5,892 human remains held in the University of Alabama museums collection are culturally linked to seven Muskogean-speaking tribes found in Alabama, l ‘Oklahoma, Louisiana and Florida.
This determination – called “cultural affiliation” under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) – means that tribes who have been trying to reclaim their ancestors and corresponding artifacts for more than a decade are finally supported by the law. The University of Alabama previously considered the remains and artifacts to be “unaffiliated.”
Under NAGPRA, once the human remains or objects are culturally affiliated, the institution must file a federal notice of inventory completion to allow other tribes to determine their interest in claiming them. If there are no additional claims by another tribe after 30 days, an institution can go ahead with a Notice of Intent to Repatriate and proceed with the return of the remains and / or objects.
In response to the November 24 “cultural affiliation” determination, the University of Alabama sent a four-page letter to the Seven Tribes, dated December 4.
In it, the university’s executive vice-president, James Dalton, wrote about the university’s role as “the official steward of the Moundville sites … devoting millions to its preservation” and assured members of the tribe of the university’s commitment to educating the public about the site, exemplified by the invitation to “dozens of Native American artists, artists, storytellers and other cultural actors” on campus each year .
Logistically, the vice president established a schedule for consultation with the tribes and imposed a December 22 deadline on the university to write a notice of completion of the inventory. That deadline was met yesterday when the University sent the seven tribes a draft inventory completion notice for review.
âDuring the consultations, the University will endeavor to identify with your tribes the specific human remains and grave goods involved (as you know, the Moundville facility serves as a repository for anthropological and archaeological material from all over the world. ‘Alabama and beyond), âthe letter read.
In a three-page response on behalf of the Seven Claimant Tribes on December 16, the tribes offered a January 7 teleconference to discuss the repatriation and demanded that the university remain focused on the ongoing claim. The director of the museum’s archaeological research office, Matthew Gage, agreed to the date in an email to the tribes yesterday, setting a four-hour meeting deadline.
âThe December 3 letter also noted the university’s efforts to celebrate Native American culture,â the tribes wrote. âWhile we appreciate these efforts, we would like to remain focused, for now, on the repatriation request made directly by the claimant tribes for Moundville’s ancestors and burial items. Other matters or formal consultations may be dealt with separately.
The tribes also presented three items they plan to accomplish at their next meeting with the university: discuss the draft inventory completion notice and timeline; put in place logistics for the physical return of all human remains and sacred objects from Moundville and associated burial sites in Tuscaloosa County and Hale Country controlled by the university; and propose a date for the completion of the physical transfer of control.
âThank you for the steps taken towards compliance,â the tribe concluded. The next step, according to the letter, will come with the follow-up of the University.
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