In 1990, the US Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which in part established a legal procedure for Native Americans to reclaim cultural items and ancestral remains from museums and federal agencies. Many advocates have framed NAGPRA as a kind of restorative justice in which “healing” is fundamentally integrated into the repatriation process. This article engages with a growing literature that ensures questions of healing are not just casually asserted but closely examined, by critically analyzing why and how NAGPRA has led to the kinds of conflict resolution and peace-building envisioned by some of its proponents. A survey of tribal repatriation workers reveals that “healing” for Native American communities is not uniform in practice or merely the end point of conflict. Rather, it is expressed in five different themes, illustrating that healing is one component of a complex socio-political process that circles around the law’s implementation.
Can Repatriation Heal the Wounds of History?
Chip Colwell is senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He has published eleven books, most recently Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture (University of Chicago Press). He is the founding editor-in-chief of Sapiens.org, an online magazine for the public about anthropological thinking and discoveries.
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Chip Colwell; Can Repatriation Heal the Wounds of History?. The Public Historian 1 February 2019; 41 (1): 90–110. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2019.41.1.90
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