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Cultural Preservation Program Staff Represent SRPMIC at NAGPRA Conference

Cultural Preservation Program Manager Shane Anton sits on the on the Inter-Tribal Efforts: Tribal Nations Developing Unity of Strength and Position panel where he discussed the collaboration to support repatriation at the Association on American Indian Affairs held its Fifth Annual Repatriation Conference.

Cultural Preservation Program Manager Shane Anton and Compliance Supervisor Angela Garcia-Lewis represented the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in panel discussions at the Association on American Indian Affairs’ Fifth Annual Repatriation Conference, “Healing the Divide,” held November 12-14 at the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation’s We-Ko-Pa Resort and Conference Center. The annual conference invites all those involved in efforts to repatriate cultural artifacts for tribal nations to join in an atmosphere of healing, sharing and learning.

NAGPRA is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. It states that Native American remains, cultural items and sacred objects that reside in museums, private collections or repositories, or are excavated or discovered on federal or tribal land, belong to the tribe in question and must be returned to the lineal descendants from that tribe. According to their website, the goal of AAIA’s annual repatriation conference is to “unite tribes, federal agencies, foreign and domestic museums, dealers, collectors, auction houses, academics, and others to better our processes and the way in which we work with one another and establish a healthy future for all of us involved in repatriation.”

Garcia-Lewis sat on the Building NAGPRA Community of Practice panel. Joining her were Anne Amati, NAGPRA Coordinator, University of Denver Museum of Anthropology; Lydia Dean-Sutton, M.A. candidate, University of Denver; and Ellen Lofaro, NAGPRA Coordinator and Curator of Archaeology, Anthropology Department, University of Tennessee. They discussed the issues affecting NAGPRA implementation in museums and the initiative to create a NAGPRA community of practice.

Garcia-Lewis discussed some of the issues affecting SRPMIC efforts in the repatriation process, which include lack of communication from both sides.

“This is something that impacts people in a very real and personal way. This job dealing with NAGPRA and cultural resources isn’t something that you can forget about at the end of the day. There are individuals still being held in museums and repositories, and every day we worry about them, we wonder how soon we can get them back,” said Garcia-Lewis. “It is a real relationship and obligation that tribal people have, and it’s not understood by institutions that are used to following a process [in dealing with cultural artifacts]. That can hinder real communication.”

Garcia-Lewis explained that while institutions have to comply with NAGPRA, some are not fully invested in it. She also shared advice on how organizations can educate others about repatriation through presentations and consultations.

The next day, Anton sat on the panel called Inter-Tribal Efforts: Tribal Nations Developing Unity of Strength and Position. The other panel members were Shannon Martin, NAGPRA Designee, Director of the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinaabe Culture & Lifeways; Colleen Medicine, Director of Language & Culture, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians; Reylynne Williams, Cultural Resource Specialist, Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Gila River Indian Community; and Timothy McKeown, Senior Adjunct Research Fellow, National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University.

The topic of this panel was how tribes can collaborate and support each other’s efforts to repatriate their cultural artifacts. Anton discussed the collaboration and support between the SRPMIC Cultural Preservation Program and its sister tribes GRIC, the Ak-Chin Indian Community and the Tohono O’odham Nation when it comes to all matters regarding repatriation efforts and cultural protocols. These communities get together monthly to make sure they are all on the same page and doing things correctly when it comes to these cultural matters and that they are supporting each other in the southern Arizona region.

“As Native people, we decide amongst ourselves, we don’t fight for remains, and we all agree that … there is a certain way [tribal remains and artifacts] should be brought home and certain cultural protocols on how your heart and mind are,” said Anton as he explained how the four tribes decide how to handle found remains in the O’odham and Piipaash territories in southern Arizona. “Fighting over them is not culturally correct, so we sit down and come to an agreement of which community they should go to and that it should be done respectfully.”

Anton also said that the four tribes and other surrounding Indian tribes help when they are having a difficult time collecting remains found in the O’odham and Piipaash territories.

SRPMIC Vice-President Ricardo Leonard and Council Representative Archie Kashoya participated in the conference along with the Cultural Resources staff. During the Association on American Indian Affairs’ 97th Annual Membership Meeting and Cultural Event, held along with the annual conference, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Traditional Dancers performed a number of traditional songs and dances.

The Sixth Annual AAIA Repatriation Conference will be held October 27-28, 2020, in Denver, Colorado.