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Recovering Ancestors and the Sacred

How to find and recover the remains of ancestors, sacred objects and more from international collections were the main topics at an event in November.
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How to find and recover the remains of ancestors, sacred objects and other items from international collections were the main topics at a special event in November that marked the 25th anniversary of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

The inaugural Indigenous International Repatriation Conference was held at the Chickasaw Nation’s Artesian Hotel & Casino in Sulphur, Oklahoma on November 16 & 17.

The Conference was put together by the Association on American Indian Affairs’ (AAIA) International Repatriation Project (IRP) and drew activists and professionals from across the country, including Hawaii and Alaska.

IRP Director Honor Keeler (Cherokee) stated that the project had long been involved in repatriation efforts and saw the need for sharing information about the process involving international entities.

“The human rights issue of repatriation is not limited to the United States, and extends internationally, which has been recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Keeler said.

“The AAIA International Repatriation Project began the first national effort toward assisting Native American communities with international repatriations. It is estimated that there may be as many as one million Indigenous ancestral remains and cultural objects residing in international repositories,” he stated.

One of the conference sessions focused on how to research collections housed in international sites.

Keeler and Jaime Lavallee (Muskeg Lake Cree) led a session entitled “Following the Trail: How to Research and Find Ancestors and Cultural Items in International Collections,” which partially expanded upon the publication released by Keeler and the AAIA, “A Guide to International Repatriation: Starting An Initiative in Your Community.”

In a related session, Shannon Keller O’Loughlin (Choctaw), previous NAGPRA Review Committee member and an attorney working on repatriation efforts co-chaired a panel that discussed how to develop a repatriation request package for foreign governments utilizing domestic law, international human rights documents, and advocacy efforts with federal agencies.

O’Loughlin urged other Native communities to take steps towards repatriation and to join the IRP.