Posted September 30, 2011
TIPPING NAGPRA’S BALANCING ACT
Matthew H. Birkhold has won the National Native American Law Students Association’s 10th Annual Student Writing Competition with his essay on “Tipping NAGPRA’s Balancing Act: the inequitable disposition of ‘culturally unidentified’ human remains under NAGPRA’s new provision.” NAGPRA is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the “new provision” refers to the Department of Interior’s controversial new regulations for the disposition of culturally unidentifiable human remains.
Birkhold concludes: “Although the new regulation was enacted to restore the law’s equilibrium, by undermining NAGPRA’s broader principles in the process, the new rule capsizes NAGPRA’s balancing act to the detriment of all the diverse interests invested in Native American human remains.” Birkhold’s paper can be read in its entirety at the William Mitchell Law Review webpage: http://www.wmitchell.edu/lawreview/Volume37/documents/Birkhold.pdf
Links to the new regulation as well as responses from a variety of institutions and individuals, including the Ohio Historical Society, can be found at the Friends of America’s Past website: http://www.friendsofpast.org/nagpra/news.html The FY 2010 Final Report of the National NAGPRA Program includes a brief mention of the comments the agency has received on the final rule. Strangely, the summary makes no mention of any of the problems identified in Birkhold’s paper or in the several letters from the institutions posted on the Friends of America’s Past website. The report refers only to comments that suggested that there should be “a review of whether disposition of associated funerary objects should be voluntary.” You can read the National NAGPRA Program FY 2010 Final Report here: http://www.nps.gov/nagpra/DOCUMENTS/NAGPRA_FY10_Program_Report.pdf