SAR Lecture: Repatriation beyond the U.S.

Santa Fe New Mexican, Paul Weideman, April 14, 2017

Until 1924, Native people were not recognized as citizens in the United States. Fifty-five years later, Congress passed the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) and in 1990 the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became the law of the land. NAGPRA was enacted to address the rights of lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations to Native American cultural items, including human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.

However, the rights of Native Americans to their own cultural items ends at the U.S. border. “There are many indigenous human remains and cultural items located in private collections and museums worldwide, and there’s been a global effort over the past few years to help bring together Native people to work on this problem,” said Honor Keeler (Cherokee Nation), who is one of the participants in a free panel discussion at the School for Advanced Research (SAR) at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19.

Keeler is the director of the International Repatriation Project, which she brought to the Maryland-based Association on American Indian Affairs. She joins attorneys Kate Fitz Gibbon, Fitz Gibbon Law, Santa Fe; and Gregory A. Smith, Hobbs Straus Dean & Walker, Washington, D.C., for the talk “At the Forefront of Repatriation: New Policy and Impact Beyond the United States.” The moderator is Brian D. Vallo (Pueblo of Acoma), director of the Indian Arts Research Center at SAR.

“My big focus will be on international repatriation for indigenous peoples worldwide,” Keeler told Pasatiempo. “NAGPRA was an amazing piece of legislation that was passed just following the National Museum of the American Indian Act, and ARPA had only come into play in the late ’70s, so many indigenous people in the U.S. were working toward addressing this horrific issue of having had their ancestors and cultural items dug up from graves and studied without their free, prior and informed consent.”

Education is an important focus for Native people hoping for the repatriation of revered cultural objects from overseas. “Education is important,” she said. “It’s breaking down those stereotypes and teaching about cultural appropriation. This is a human rights issue.”

The Association on American Indian Affairs was established in 1946. It dates back to a 1922 organization named Eastern Association on Indian Affairs, which was founded in New York to help a group of Pueblo people who were trying to protect their land rights.

The School for Advanced Research is at 660 Garcia St. Call 505-954-7207 or visit for more information.