Sunday, September 25, 2011

Smithsonian in the news

GAO Finds that Smithsonian Institution May Still Take Several More Decades to Repatriate Native American Remains and Objects

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Smithsonian Institution's process to repatriate thousands of Native American human remains and funerary objects in its collections is lengthy and resource intensive and it may take several more decades to return items to tribes under its current system, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

This GAO report is the second of a two-part, three-year effort to examine how publicly funded institutions are complying with the two federal laws that direct repatriation to Native Americans. Last year the GAO examined the repatriation work of eight key Federal agencies and the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

According to the GAO report, Smithsonian Institution: Much Work Still Needed to Identify and Repatriate Indian Human Remains and Objects, examiners suggested that Congress should consider ways to expedite the repatriation process and that the Board of Regents considers four administrative changes.

In 1989, Congress passed a law that created a repatriation process for the Smithsonian Institution; two of the institution's 19 galleries and museums hold important collections of Native American human remains and sacred objects. The law also created the National Museum of the American Indian. Though not certain of the exact number, the Smithsonian states it has about 20,000 catalog records of Native American human remains plus many more catalog records of cultural objects held at the National Museum of Natural History and the American Indian museum. Only a quarter of these have been repatriated to the rightful Native Indian owners, according to the GAO report released in May.

In addition to not regularly reporting to Congress, federal auditors said the repatriation process is lengthy and resource intensive. Both museums use a two-step repatriation process that starts with a printout from an electronic catalogue system that lists human remains and cultural objects that is sent to the tribe. The Indian tribe is then required to file a claim to either museum indicating their interest. Only then does the museum begin a lengthy process of using the "best available information" to build a case report that may or may not recommend repatriation. This process requires an Indian tribe to review thousands of electronic records, which, many times do not contain all relevant information.

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