(Dr Sudhir Gupta, Additional Prof, Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, AIIMS)
Doctors and scientists have long sought to understand life in early civilizations through the excavation of burial grounds and exhumation of human remains. In the
the attempt to
understand early cultures led to the exhumation of the remains of Native
Americans, many of which ended up in the nation’s museums and archaeology labs.
In an attempt to prevent the desecration of Native American graves, the Native
American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was introduced in Congress in
July 1990 and subsequently passed into law. United States
- The bill states that any human remains and objects found on federal or tribal lands after the date of enactment are to be considered owned or controlled by lineal descendants, the tribe on whose land it was found, the tribe having the closest cultural affiliation, or the tribe which aboriginals occupied the area. Anyone who discovers items covered by the bill must cease his or her activity, notify the federal land manager responsible and the appropriate tribe, and make a reasonable effort to protect the items.
- Anyone who violates the provisions of the bill may be fined, imprisoned not more than one year, or both. The penalty may increase to five years for a second violation.
- The act further states that all federal agencies and museums receiving federal funds that have control over any of the items covered in the bill are to, within five years, inventory and identify the items, notify the affected tribes, and make arrangements to return such items if the appropriate tribe made a request. If an item was acquired with the consent of the tribe or if the item was part of a scientific study which was expected to be of major benefit to the country, the request for repatriation (i.e., return) could be denied.