Scientists May Sue to Keep Native American Remains

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WASHINGTON -- Scientists are contemplating a lawsuit that would challenge a new government rule requiring universities and museums to return culturally unidentifiable remains to the tribal lands from which they were removed, according to a report by Indian Country Today. On March 15, the Interior Department added the aforementioned rule to legislation that was adopted in 1990 as part of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Scientists claim that the new regulations go beyond the original intentions of NAGPRA, and will severely limit the ability of anthropologists, geneticists, and other researchers who are only now beginning to reap the benefits of DNA testing techniques on the ancient remains. Native American communities, on the other hand, say that 80 percent of the human remains being held in museums and educational institutions, which have been deemed culturally unidentifiable, can in fact be traced to specific tribes. Although some Native Americans have criticized NAGPRA for not protecting sacred funerary objects in addition to the human remains, they say the new ruling has been received positively in their communities. The Interior Department has opened a 60-day period for public comment on the rule change, after which it will become an official part of NAGPRA.