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Apaches want better results from 1990 repatriation law

The Camp Verde Journal of Camp Verde, Arizona

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Historic and cultural preservationists from the Yavapai-Apache Nation joined other Apache tribes earlier this month in raising concerns about how the federal government is handing its responsibilities under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act.

Passed in 1990, the law governs how museums and groups like the National Park Service are supposed to return American Indian human remains and culturally important or sacred items to the tribes with which they belong.

The Yavapai-Apache Nation joined representatives from the San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache and Tonto Apache tribes in September in sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar accusing the National Park Service of improperly labeling certain sacred items over the years.

The letter claims that the government has mislabeled sacred objects as simply "cultural items," a distinction that could potentially affect different tribes' abilities to get their belongings back in a reasonable time period. While the government has not yet directly responded to the letter, groups concerned with implementation of the repatriation law testified in October before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources. Members of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers told the committee they Wanted to see how the current government administration could work to improve implementing the law when it comes to human remains and cultural artifacts.

"Traditional, responsible Apaches would never, now and in the past, willingly give up these items to a non-Apache for non-ritual use," said Steve Titla, representing the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

"Most of these objects were acquired, sometimes stolen, from Apache lands by museums at a time of extraordinary hardship, misery, and injustice for Apache people. Some agents of museums took deliberate advantage of these conditions to get these items, at the expense of Apaches," he said.

Congressional committee members expressed their concerns that the government was still cataloguing items, 15 years after it was supposed to have been done according to the letter of the repatriation act.

Brenda Edwards, chairwoman of Oklahoma's Caddo Nation, told the committee it would take 130 years to document all of these items and remains at the current rate the government is moving.

— Mark Lineberger Larson Newspapers

Copyright 2009 The Camp Verde Journal, Camp Verde, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 11, 2009

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