Grave Injustice: The American Indian Repatriation Movement and NAGPRA

May 15th, 2004 | By | Category: 15-4: Ancient Cultures Modern Technology, Media Reviews

University of Nebraska Press (2002). 250 pages
ISBN 0803269080
Paperback $19.95

Review by David Hurley

Grave Injustice examines the American Indian repatriation movement and the controversial legislation that resulted from it, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA).

The book is divided into two parts. The first is a historical overview of the development of the repatriation movement. The second uses a case study of NAGPRA repatriation efforts at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO, (where Fine-Dare was chair of the Anthropology Department) to frame the complexities of NAGPRA compliance both for institutions and for tribes.

Her college exemplifies how even an institution that has the best intentions can run into difficulties because of the size of the task, differing interpretations of the law, and the potential for misunderstandings.

The first part of the book attempts to put repatriation in its historical context by giving an overview of the history of European and European-American attitudes and actions towards Native Americans and their remains. This is a huge subject, and while Fine-Dare makes a strong case that repatriation is just and appropriate, many of her examples don’t tie back to the main focus of the book. Poor organization leaves the work disjointed and hard to follow.

The book’s most serious shortcoming is that Fine-Dare fails to provide much insight into the anti-NAGPRA perspective. Having read the arguments for repatriation, the reader is left to wonder how scientists (or anybody) could oppose repatriation at all.

Fine-Dare asserts that it is “difficult to discuss these matters without entering into a polemic that treats science as a monolithic, self-serving monster and Native American claims for justice as little more than fanatical fundamentalism at odds with universal quest for truth.” But it is just that sort of non-polemical discussion that is needed.

The book is recommended as a supplemental text only.

David Hurley is director of library services for Diné College’s Arizona campuses.

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