Monday, June 2, 2008

Colorado's Native American Remains Reburial Process Receives Approval

The Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs and the Colorado Historical Society have received approval to implement a new process to rebury "culturally unidentifiable" Native American remains that are discovered on non-federal public and private lands in Colorado.
This will allow Colorado's two Ute tribes to rebury 37 culturally unidentified Native American remains currently housed at the Colorado History Museum in Denver.
"This is a national model," said Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien who chairs the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs. "It is a carefully developed process to ensure the dignity of the remains and be respectful of Native American culture."
Under the new process, the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Tribes will be able to take responsibility for the culturally unidentifiable remains and rebury them in as little as 100 days.
Developing the new process in consultation with the tribes took more than three years. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Review Committee recently approved the Colorado's process, the most extensive of its kind in the country.
"This process has proven that effective dialogue among tribes, museums and state agencies can yield very positive outcomes. It has set the course for future endeavors by the Colorado Historical Society in the way we approach NAGPRA, and provides a model for other agencies to follow as we move forward," said Edward C. Nichols, Colorado Historical Society President & CEO.
NAGPRA, a federal law enacted in 1990, provides a legal process for Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and items of cultural patrimony to be returned to lineal descendents and culturally affiliated tribes. The law mandates consultation between tribes and museums regarding Native American items in museum collections.
However, NAGPRA regulations were not developed for repatriating American Indian human remains that cannot be affiliated with a particular tribe. It is these remains that are considered "culturally unidentifiable."
In response to requests from Colorado's Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian Tribes, the Colorado Historical Society and the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs partnered with 45 regional tribes to develop the process. Tribes from South Dakota, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arizona were consulted, under a NAGPRA grant from the U.S. Forest Service. All the regional tribes had a presence within Colorado's boundaries at some point in their history.
The seven-member NAGPRA Review Committee is appointed by the Secretary of Interior. The committee members recently heard testimony from Terry Knight, Sr. from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Towaoc, Colorado; Ernest House, Jr., executive secretary of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs; Brigid Ambler, curator of material culture and Sheila Goff, NAGPRA liaison, both of the Colorado Historical Society.
In approving the process, the committee suggested that it could serve as a model to other states seeking to resolve similar issues.
Implementation will begin as soon as the Secretary of Interior issues guidance, likely in a few weeks.