UPDATE: Sen. McCain’s Amendment to NAGPRA

John McCain has been trying to sneak in an amendment to NAGPRA, The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, that would effectively gut it for the benefit of a few Indian tribes. (Previous posts on this topic are here and here.) This is a big deal, because if the tribes get their way they will be able to veto the study of any prehistoric human remains found in the USA, even if those remains have no connection to existing tribes.

Moira Breen, who has been at the forefront of Internet efforts to block the hijacking of NAGPRA, reports that popular opposition to McCain has had some effect, but that McCain is not giving up and plans a stacked hearing to ram his amendment through. It is therefore important for concerned individuals to contact their Congressional representatives (again) ASAP and make their opinions known.

I repost Moira’s note in its entirety:

Status update on S.536 Section 108:

Thanks again to all of you who blogged on McCain’s stealth amendment to NAGPRA
(Section 108, S.536). A public hearing on this amendment is now scheduled
for 14 June. I heard through the grapevine that the decision to hold a
hearing on this deplorable “‘was’ vs. ‘is'” amendment was effected by the
number and variety of citizens who wrote in protest. I know many people
wrote to say they’d contacted their congressmen; I’d like to think the
blogosphere had a hand in getting this into the light.

Unfortunately, as you will note, the hearing has been scheduled on very short
notice, and no public notice has been given. Furthermore, word is that the
hearing invitations are very much biased against the opponents of the
amendment (possibly 5-1 or 4-2), and no time was allowed for the advocates of
the underrepresented side to organize, re-arrange their schedules, and find
an affordable flight to Washington. Obviously McCain et al. consider this
hearing to be an inconvenience, temporarily interfering with their efforts to
ignore the establishment clause of the First Amendment and the public’s
interest in scientific inquiry.

So now I’m doing my Struthers-esque “save the skeletons” act one more time:
time is short, and I’m asking bloggers and readers to make their views known
once again to their representatives and to all the members of the Senate
Indian Affairs Committee – and perhaps to ask what’s the big damned hurry
here. Friends of America’s Past has all the amendment and contact info. (And, of course, you can find more background at my joint.)

5 thoughts on “UPDATE: Sen. McCain’s Amendment to NAGPRA”

  1. Thanks Jonathan! Update: Apparently McCain’s staff had indicated that the hearings would be scheduled for fall. But I’m sure there’s a good reason for the rush rush hush hush, no?

  2. I have a feeling that this actually a shakedown in the making. It gives arbitrary individuals the right to block not only scientific research but construction as well. If this passes, we will see a lot of threats to block both private and public projects unless this or that group gets a “donation.”

    Ironically, much of our modern respect for American-Indian cultures comes from the work of archeologist who showed that most pre-columbian American cultures were not neolithic nomads but rather peoples with extensive civilizations. One must wonder how our view today would be different if such restrictions on archeological work had been observed in the past.

  3. Good point, Shannon – especially considered in light of some jaw-dropping “sacred lands” legislation that has been introduced. (E.g. link, link.)

    Your second point is also important – I don’t think scientific interest trumps legitimate claims to artifacts and remains, even when this results in painful (to scientists and laymen like me) losses. But it is interesting how knowledge of the past acquired by research is used selectively by opponents of such research. I don’t think anyone would have been much bothered about the disposition of the remains of Kennewick Man if scientific investigation hadn’t revealed that they were very old. (Without that initial anthropologist’s examination, Kenny would probably have been written off as a not too interesting 19th-century white settler. It’s science that turned him into “The Ancient One”.)

  4. This will add another to the towering stack of perverse incentives that Federal regulation often creates today. Consider the Endangered Species Act. If you own property, and you find an endangered species on your property, what does your economic motivation tell you to do? Why, destroy it immediately, of course! If you try to be a responsible citizen, and report it, you receive no reward; rather, your property will almost certainly be seized, and you open yourself up to possible criminal prosecution and certain media/political vilification. If, on the other hand, you destroy it and tell no one, you keep your property and likely suffer no negative consequences.

    If this bill passes with McCain’s amendment, the tribes in question won’t have to worry about “donations”, because ancient remains will mysteriously stop turning up.

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