Native American Remains and Funerary Objects

News Release

U-M committee will advise about the transfer of culturally unidentifiable human remains

Vice President Stephen Forrest Statement at Board of Regents Meeting (10-15-09)

Advisory Committee on Culturally Unidentifiable Human Remains under NAGPRA

As you know, there is a rich diversity of opinion at the university and in the broader community regarding how to balance the concerns of Native Americans and others about culturally unidentifiable human remains and associated funerary objects being held by museums, and the knowledge that can be derived from such collections.

I strongly believe that as one of the nation’s leading research universities, we must develop a thoughtful way to address this important issue. To that end, I have asked a multidisciplinary committee of faculty members and a graduate student to serve as a resource for the Office of the Vice President for Research in evaluating issues relating to the transfer of culturally unidentifiable human remains. This is particularly important during the current period as we are anticipating new rules concerning unidentifiable human remains to be issued shortly by the Federal Government.

Associate Vice President for Research Toni Antonucci, the Elizabeth M. Douvan Collegiate Professor of Psychology, has graciously agreed to chair the committee.

I appreciate her leadership and the willingness of her and her colleagues to bring their broad experience and scholarly perspectives to this sensitive and complex issue.

The committee represents a wide range of disciplines, from classical archaeology, environmental engineering, history and law to mathematics, medicine, Native American Studies, philosophy, the museums, political science and public policy.

We are calling the group the Advisory Committee on Culturally Unidentifiable Human Remains under NAGPRA.

NAGPRA, or the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, is the federal law that requires museums to follow a designated process for returning culturally affiliated human remains and associated funerary objects to individuals and groups that have requested such return. NAGPRA does not, however, require compliance with a similar process for culturally unidentifiable human remains. The committee will therefore serve as a resource in identifying and evaluating the issues related to such remains.

While the committee proceeds with its work, the university will continue to repatriate human remains and funerary objects when likely cultural affiliation can be determined.

I look forward to keeping you updated on the important work of this committee.

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