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Indigenous Repatriation: Rise of a Global Movement

Monday, November 28, 2016, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm


The return of human remains and cultural property to their Indigenous nations of origin is today a global phenomenon, but such has not always been the case. The seeds of the indigenous repatriation movement were planted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the formalization of law related to the acquisition and possession of art and antiquities and the franchisement of Indigenous peoples in the dominant legal cultures of their respective countries. Efforts by Indigenous communities to repatriate human remains and cultural property in the early 20th century were disparate, isolated appeals to individual museums or the courts and the results were mixed. Starting in the 1980s, Indigenous groups in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States increased the number and scope of their repatriation requests and expanded their efforts by working collaboratively with Indigenous groups and professional associations across national borders. Since 1989, these efforts precipitated a florescence of national and international legislative and policy reforms that have opened the door to efforts by other Indigenous groups around the world.

Dr. C. Timothy McKeown is a legal anthropologist whose career has focused exclusively on the development and use of explicit ethnographic methodologies to document the cultural knowledge of communities and use that knowledge to enhance policy development and implementation. He has been intimately involved in the documentation and application of indigenous knowledge to the development of U.S. repatriation policy since 1991. For 18 years he served as a Federal official responsible for drafting regulations implementing Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), developing databases to document compliance, establishing a grants program, investigating allegations of failure to comply for possible civil penalties, coordinating the activities of a Secretarial advisory committee, and providing training and technical assistance to nearly 1000 museums and Federal agencies and 700 indigenous communities across the U.S. The results of his regulatory drafting have withstood broad public review by all constituencies as well as direct challenges in Federal District and Appellate Courts. He advised or served as part of U.S. delegations negotiating repatriation provisions before the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), Organization of American States, and United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Since 2009, Tim has consulted on repatriation of cultural items with several Indian tribes, prepared policy recommendations and provided training at annual meetings of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and served as an expert witness for tribal Plaintiffs in a case before a US Federal District Court.