American archaeologists have had more a decade’s experience with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). It has also been misapplied, I believe, as in the case of Kennewick Man. Although that skeleton may have been proto-Polynesian rather than European, Steve McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly filed a brief in the court case over who got the skeleton under NAGPRA’s rules. Mattias Gardell (see 29 November post ) makes an interesting point: We know that Norse people visited North America, but if a Norse cemetery were discovered in, say, Maine, a literal reading of NAGPRA would require those bones to be handed over the nearest federally recognized American Indian tribe as “ancestral remains.”
“So far as governments are concerned, repatriation strategies have become part of the way in which they attempt to connect with what they perceive as fragmented, divided societies. In the USA and Australia, the apparent failure to integrate indigenous populations had became a particular cause for concern by the 1980s, and with no new solutions to integration on the horizon, the issue became how best to build a relationship – any relationship – with these separate, impoverished groups of people came to the fore.
“Repatriation, in this context, represented a symbolic reversal of conquest – a giving back of what had been taken, a recognition of the value of indigenous culture at the highest levels of government, and an attempt to create, not one national identity, but a new ‘pluricultural’ ideal” (“Battle of the Bones”).
(Thanks to Arts and Letters Daily for sending me down this track.)
British Pagan are increasingly positioning themselves as “indigenous religion” and taking an active interest in the management of prehistoric Pagan archaeological sites, so these controversies will only increase.