Forensic Anthropology Jobs Needed: Another Government Debacle

My wife and I had dinner with an instructor for Forensic Anthropology on Saturday and I learned how there is a shortage of Forensic Anthropologists. That little fact surprised me. “How can that be? Where do you find Forensic Anthropology employment? Who’s paying for them?” It was an honest question.

I received an honest answer. “The shortage is due to museums and other research facilities that are trying to comply with the “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act”

“The what?” I asked. “What the hell is that?”

He proceeded to educate me which is most accurately described in this definition from Wikipedia.
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The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), Pub.L. 101-601, 104 Stat. 3048, is a United States federal law passed on 16 November 1990 requiring federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding[1] to return Native American cultural items and human remains to their respective peoples. Cultural items include funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. In addition, it authorizes a program of federal grants to assist in the repatriation process. It is now the strongest federal legislation pertaining to aboriginal remains and artifacts.
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“Are you kidding me?” I asked. “What bunch of idiots passed that law? That has to cost a fortune.”

My dinner guest was agreeing with me, but being a man of science, he is eternally sympathetic to funding needs. Then I remembered when he and I had watched John Dunbar’s epic journey into the land of the Sioux Nation together around that time, then it came back to me. The film Dances with Wolves by Kevin Costner came out on November 21st of 1990. And the NAGPRA was passed just days before the release of the film.

The Heard Museum Report had been debated for three years starting in 1987 and had been passed by the 101st Congress as advanced copies of Dances With Wolves was circulating around Washington, after all Costner has just had a wild success with Field of Dreams. So there was a lot of buzz around the new movie about Native Americans. So with the usual sentimentality that engulfs the puffy coffee enriched minds of bureaucracy, they passed the NAGPRA without thinking much about the cost to science, or the tax payer.

“That is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard in the history of bad ideas,” I stated in clichéd fashion, knowing it was a cliché when I said it.

My dinner guest proceeded to educate me on various cases and pointed me in the direction of an article by Jan Bernstein:
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NAGPRA – Future Applicability Rule
Article written for SPNHC by Jan Bernstein
Does the institution that you work for have Native American cultural items under its control or in its possession and does it also receive Federal funds? If so, more than likely you already know that your institution is a “museum” and therefore is legally required to comply with 25 U.S.C. 3001, which is more commonly known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act or NAGPRA. But what you might not know is that there are new NAGPRA compliance rules for what is known in the Act as Future Applicability.

These rules apply to the following situations: 1) The museum or Federal agency acquires a new collection item or finds a previously unreported item that may be covered by the Act (covered items are Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony; 2) A previously unrecognized Indian group is recognized by the Federal government as an Indian tribe. 3) An institution in possession or control of an item or items that may be covered by the Act receives Federal funds for the first time; and 4) The museum or Federal agency revises a decision previously published in the Federal Register.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was signed into law on November 16, 1990, but it wasn’t until March 21, 2007 that the final rule for §10.13 Future Applicability of NAGPRA was promulgated. It was published in Federal Register Volume 72, Number 54 and it applies to existing and newly acquired museum collections. Those are Sections Five, Six, and Seven of the Act. It does not apply to inadvertent discoveries or planned excavations which are addressed in Section Three of the Act.

The Future Applicability rules became effective on April 20, 2007. And on that date it established statutory deadlines for completion of NAGPRA Section Five Human Remains Inventories/Notices of Inventory Completion and NAGPRA Section Six Summaries (unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony). For you organization, the first deadline may be October 20, 2007. The rule set a six months deadline to produce and distribute a NAGPRA Section Six Summary for a new holding or a previously unreported holding newly located that may be unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony. October 20, 2007 is the deadline for the Summary distribution if the new holding was acquired or found prior to April 20, 2007. Your organization has two years from the promulgation date or acquisition/discovery date to prepare a NAGPRA Section Five Human Remains Inventory/Notice of Inventory Completion in consultation with affiliated Indian tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations. If the new holding was acquired or located prior to April 20, 2007, you have until April 20, 2009 to do culturally affiliation consultation and distribute a NAGPRA Section Five Human Remains Inventory and publish a Notice of Inventory Completion in the Federal Register.

A newly Federally recognized Indian tribe has standing under NAGPRA and museums and Federal agencies covered by the Act are required by the Future Applicability Rule to send Section Six Summaries to these Tribes within six month of recognition. Federal Agencies and museums are also required within two years of recognition to prepare in consultation with culturally affiliated Indian tribes NAGPRA Section Five Inventories/Notices of Inventory Completion.

Maybe your organization didn’t receive any Federal funds between November 16, 1990 when the law passed and November 16, 1995 when the last deadline occurred. But since that time it began to receive such funds. Those funds may be flowing directly to your organization or to your parent organization. For example, maybe you are working for private college anthropology or art department and another department at the college started to accept Federal contracts or grants after 11/16/1995. Those funds have redefined your department as a museum covered by NAGPRA. If this is the case, your organization is required to comply with NAGPRA. If you find your organization is in this situation, you must within three years from the time the Federal funds were received or from the effective date of the Rule (4/10/07), whichever is later provide a Section Six Summary to Indian tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations that are most likely to be culturally affiliated. Within Five years of the date of receipt of Federal funds, or within five years of the effective date of this Rule, whichever is later, you must prepare, in consultation with affiliated Indian tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations, a Section Five Human Remains Inventory/Notice of Inventory Completion.

If your organization previously published a Notice of Inventory Completion, but the information has since substantively changed, the Future Applicability Rule requires a Notice of Inventory Completion Correction be published in the Federal Register. A substantive change is a change in the culturally affiliated Indian tribes or a change in the minimum number of individuals count. The National NAGPRA Program will assist you with this process.

What does this mean for those of you who represent a Federally Recognized Indian tribe? Well, I hope you will see some new Summaries hitting your desk as well as an increase in the number of requests to consult in preparation of new human remains Inventories.
The rules can be found on the National NAGPRA Program’s web site. I wish you all great success in your NAGPRA compliance efforts.
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“How can an anthropologist or archeologist be expected to return the remains of Indian Tribes when much of the tribal movements aren’t even understood by anybody yet? There are still completely mysterious cultures that no science organization understands regarding Native Americans.” I was thinking of Cahokia outside of St. Louis, and several of the mound builders in the Ohio Valley. The Shawnee had in fact migrated from Florida before settling in Ohio. Few tribes could be traced back for thousands of years.

The instructor laughed. “That’s part of the problem. There are a lot of finds and burial relics that predate 1492, so it is nearly impossible to return cultural items to specific tribes.”

I was getting angry. “What about the ancestors of Anglo Saxons that were fleeing tyrants of Europe to settle the frontier that were cannibalized in giant kettles and eaten like soup, entire families were slain for no reason what-so-ever.”

“That’s not politically correct,” he laughed at me.

“That’s politics, which is the same as what comes out of an elephants ass.”

“Well,” he said, “its business. Laws like that put people to work and make people feel like they’re doing something important.”

He mentioned Bernstein and Associates, who I looked up and read their literature.
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Bernstein & Associates, LLC
We work with Indian tribes, museums, universities, and governmental agencies on Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) compliance projects.

Services we provide to our clients

NAGPRA Grant Writing
We write successful Consultation/Documentation and Repatriation grant proposals.
Our clients have received over $1,000,000 (one million dollars) in
NAGPRA Consultation/Documentation and Repatriation Grant grant awards.
Annually since 1999, we have written at least one NAGPRA Consultation/Documentation grant for clients and every year we’ve had a grant funded.

Jan Bernstein teaches a two-day NAGPRA Grant Writing Seminar for the National Preservation Institute.

NAGPRA Consultation Support
There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into NAGPRA consultation planning, implementation, documentation, and follow-up. Official tribal representatives frequently praise our culturally sensitive, insightful, respectful approach to consultation. Bernstein & Associates helps Indian tribes, museums, and federal agencies with all phases to whatever degree suits your needs:
• Meeting planning
• Consultation preparation including document research and assembly
• Consultation documentation
• Consultation follow-up

Since 1990, we have organized and facilitated several hundred individual and group consultations with tribes that have traditional territory in all regions of the country including Alaska and Hawaii.

Repatriation, Physical Transfer, and Reburial
We have worked with tribal leaders, official tribal NAGPRA representatives, and traditional religious leaders in the Southwest, Plains, Great Basin, and Southeastern US as well as Peru (non-NAGPRA) to facilitate the repatriation and reburial of nearly 1000 individuals and hundreds of cultural items. Bernstein & Associates is available to:
• Write repatriation grant proposals for up to $15,000 to defray the costs associated with reburial
• Provide assistance in writing valid repatriation requests and repatriation claims
• Write draft notices of intent to repatriate
• Facilitate the development and implementation of reburial plans and agreements

NAGPRA Summary and Human Remains Inventory Preparation
Because of the long-standing, positive working relationships that we have built with the tribes throughout the U.S since the mid 1980s, we are extremely successful in aiding clients in the preparation of culturally sensitive NAGPRA Summaries and Inventories. Every client utilizes our services in a slightly different way. Some of the many services we provided to clients are:
. Assess collections to determine which tribes should receive summaries and invitations to consult on cultural affiliation for development of Inventories
– Write letters to tribes using our tribal contact database, which is constantly updated with current contact information for tribal leaders and NAGPRA reps, as well as consultation style preferences
– Initiate Summary consultation after initial correspondence
– Facilitate NAGPRA consultation conferences

Strategic Planning

We help clients assess what needs to be done to comply with NAGPRA, how long it will take, and develop a chronology. We then break it down into manageable projects that could be funded by grants for museum clients. We provide clients with a written plan that can be used to track progress.

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“So it’s all about getting federal grants,” I asked.

He smiled and sipped his wine. “It’s always about money, and that’s why there’s a need for Forensic Anthropologists.”
Then our conversation over the rest of the wine migrated to the Kennewick Man, which I found a nice back story below.
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Source World of Forensic Science
The remains of an ancient human found along a river in Kennewick, Washington, in 1996 set off a heated debate about the ownership and future of the skeleton. Scientists argued that the skeleton, dubbed Kennewick Man, could provide new information about human migration in North America, while Native Americans claimed him as an ancestor and wanted to bury him according to their rites. Forensic anthropological findings and cultural evidence were presented in court procedures over the course of nine years while the fate of the Kennewick Man was debated.

The story of Kennewick Man began in July 1996, when two college students watching hydroplane races found a human skeleton along the Columbia River. The young men turned the remains over to local police, who realized that they were probably very old. The bones were then given to forensic anthropologist James Chatters for evaluation. Chatters reconstructed the skeleton, which was 80–90% complete. He determined that it was from a man who was probably five feet nine or 10 inches and about 40–50 years old when he died. He showed little evidence of arthritis, indicating that he wasn’t used to carrying heavy weights and that he might have been a wandering hunter. Dental examinations showed that the skull contained 30 of the 32 teeth and that they were in good shape, indicating that he probably had a diet that included lots of soft foods like meat. He was taller and thinner than most ancient Native Americans and the back of his skull was not flattened from a cradleboard as is commonly observed in skeletons of ancient Native Americans. In addition, the man had a stone spear point lodged in his pelvis and there was evidence of severe trauma to his rib cage that probably limited the use of his arm. Using computerized tomography (CT), Chatters determined that the spear point was serrated and leaf-shaped and typical of the types of spears used between 8500–4500 years ago. He hypothesized that the skeleton was either from a European pioneer who had been attacked by native people using stone-age weapons or from an ancient human. Chatters sent pieces of the bones to a laboratory for carbon dating, which determined that the age of the skeleton was between 9,200–9,400 years old, making the skeleton one of the oldest, and most complete, ever found in North America.
Once the age of the skeleton was determined, several groups came forward, vying for control of the remains. A group of five Native American tribes in the region, the Umatilla, the Yakama, the Nez Perce, the Wanapum, and the Colville, wanted to accord the remains the same rites given to any Native American, namely a speedy burial. They cited the legal authority of the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGRA), which requires the return of American Indian remains to tribes. As news of the unique find spread throughout the scientific community, a coalition of eight anthropologists and archaeologists petitioned for their right to study the ancient remains prior to burial. The scientists believed that study of the Kennewick Man could reveal important information about early human migrations into North America. The Native American group believed that any manipulation of the remains would show enormous disrespect to the dead and vehemently opposed scientific investigation of the skeleton, which they called the Ancient One. Because some of the features of the Kennewick Man, such as his height and the shape of his skull, indicated that he might not be of Native American ancestry but rather of European descent, a group of people representing the ancient Norse religion called Asatru also petitioned the court for the right to the remains.

The ensuing legal battle raged for more than nine years. One of the key questions of debate in the courts concerned whether or not the skeleton was subject to NAGRA. NAGRA requires that all Native American remains be returned to the tribe for burial, however it was unclear if the Kennewick man was of Native American ancestry. Eventually the court ruled that some scientific study was required in order to establish the origin of the skeleton and between 1998 and 2000, the Department of the Interior coordinated these studies. A 1999 physical examination of the bones established that the Kennewick Man shared most physical characteristics with people from Southern Asia. In April 2000, samples of bone from the Kennewick Man’s skeleton were removed and sent to two different laboratories for DNA testing. Because of the age of the bones, it was impossible to extract sufficient DNA for analysis and the results of the study were inconclusive. After a series of appeals by all sides, in February 2004, a U.S. Federal judge ruled that it was impossible to prove that the Kennewick Man’s ancestry was culturally affiliated to any of the Native American tribes in the region and gave scientists the right to go forward with their investigation. In 2005, plans were outlined for study three-phase study involving as many as 23 different scientists.

The dinner was over and it was time to go home. The impact of this NAGPRA has seriously hampered science by bringing politics into the whole business and allowed ourselves to be hampered by sensitivity. America had allowed our guilt over pushing the Native American’s westward to cripple us the same way we currently do over slavery, neither of which we can do anything about now. All we can do is learn from those experiences, which is what science is all about.

Instead of learning and expanding our worldly knowledge, we’re wasting time appeasing political factions, getting grants so we can move some bones around the country and argue over bones that pre-date our known understanding of history, which is shallow at best.

But that is the nature of politics. It’s equivalent to living life in a straight jacket. All I can do is shake my head at the invention of yet another useless government created position, a Forensic Anthropologist that spends less time digging and understanding the past, and more time filling out papers to qualify for federal grants.

Rich Hoffman
http://twitter.com/#!/overmanwarrior
www.overmanwarrior.com

10 Comments

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