NAGPRA and a poisoned legacy

3 Jun

NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) was passed by Congress in 1990. It began a long overdue process of returning various human remains and material objects back to various tribal peoples.

Hoopa Tribal Museum curator Silis-chi-tawn Jackson displays artifacts returned to the tribe by Harvard University's Peabody Museum that were preserved with dangerous chemicals.

Hoopa Tribal Museum curator Silis-chi-tawn Jackson displays artifacts returned to the tribe by Harvard University’s Peabody Museum that were preserved with dangerous chemicals.

An article by Joaquin Palomino in the latest High Country News, however, details what one non-Indian chemist calls “the museum world’s dirty little secret”: preserving Native American materials with pesticides and other potentially poisonous chemicals.

Palomino summarizes the situation this way:

In the 19th and 20th centuries, state and national museums used more than 90 different pesticides on artifacts to protect them from bugs and rodents. As a result, an estimated 80 percent of all U.S. ethnographic collections are contaminated with heavy metals, posing health dangers to staff, visitors and, since the 1992 passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act NAGPRA, to tribes who’ve sought the safe return of artifacts. “It’s been the museum world’s dirty little secret for decades,” notes Peter Palmer, a San Francisco State University chemist and leading expert on the issue.

For his entire article, see here: Archaeology’s poisonous past — High Country News.

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