Errors raise concerns among museum and federal officials
"In the United States ... the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act required every museum getting public funds to survey its collections; identify Indian remains and funerary, sacred and other objects; and consult with Indian tribes and 'repatriate' the artifacts if requested. Such objects may have been legitimately purchased a century ago from the tribes or have no issue clouding their provenance, but claims of ordinary property give way before claims of cultural property. The grievous sins of the past are now being repaid with a vengeance. And the risks of repatriation and the requirements of tribal consultation have led to promotional, uninformative and self-indulgent themes in exhibitions about American Indians."
Sherry Hutt, the national NAGPRA program manager, said Rothstein's interpretation is wrong. She is well versed in the 1990 law, which created a legal process for federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to return American Indian human remains and cultural items to their respective tribes or lineal descendants.
"NAGPRA does provide a process to resolve long-standing claims of Native Americans to the human remains of their ancestors and to certain cultural items, but it expressly does not require a museum to give up something that was lawfully acquired in the first instance," Hutt said. "The law indicates that if the item left the tribe with the voluntary consent of an individual or group that had the authority of alienation, then the museum can overcome a claim by asserting its right of possession."