The Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA’s) virtual annual meeting erupted in controversy last week after members realized the organization had allowed a talk arguing against a key U.S. law giving Native Americans rights to the human remains and cultural artifacts of their ancestors. Although the presentation was made by an SAA member and anthropologist, many archaeologists say they were shocked their professional organization gave a platform to what they consider anti-Indigenous views; they say SAA has not adequately addressed the harm caused by the talk. Some archaeologists are considering leaving and starting a new society.
There’s little quite a jarring as realising your academic professional society to which you proudly belong is happily providing a platform to ideas you find abhorrent. We have included links to ten related items.
In 1990, the United States passed a law requiring universities, museums, and other institutions to inform Native American tribes of any Indigenous human remains and artifacts in their collections—and return them when requested. At first, many archaeologists worried the law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), would compromise their research. But today NAGPRA is widely accepted by archaeologists, as most agree that Indigenous people should have the right to determine the treatment of their ancestors’ remains, which were often looted from tribal lands. Since NAGPRA became law, many tribes have collaborated with archaeologists to study their history and ancestors.