A member of a Utah-based organization dedicated to protecting the sacred lands of indigenous people has recently been appointed to a national committee. This committee assists in returning Native American ancestral remains and funerary objects to tribal communities.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Review committee was formed in 1990 as part of the Federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This seven-person committee is made up of members from indigenous communities and national museum and scientific organizations.
“Repatriation is about bringing ancestral remains and funerary objects and ceremonial items and objects of cultural patrimony back to tribal communities,” said Honor Keeler, the assistant director of Utah Diné Bikéyah.
A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, she works to prevent vandalism and looting at Bear’s Ears National Monument and has been appointed to serve on the national committee overseeing the return of remains and funeral objects to tribes.
“The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires federally funded institutions to come up with inventories of their Native American human remains and associated funerary objects and summaries of their unassociated funerary objects, and objects of cultural patrimony and send those to tribes,” Keeler said.
During the repatriation process, disputes between groups are brought to the committee for review. The committee provides solutions and makes recommendations.
Keeler said another challenge in implementing the repatriation process is that the 1990 act is limited to federally funded institutions.
“This is a worldwide issue,” Keeler said. “Our indigenous ancestors’ cultural items have ended up in museums and collections overseas as well as in private collections.”
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appointed Keeler to her position in May. The repatriation program is administered by the National Parks Service.