Student Essay on NAGPRA and ‘culturally unidentified’ human remains

Matthew Birkhold has won the National native American Law Students Association’s 10th annual writing competition with an assay published in the William Mitchell Law Review. From the Introduction:

In recent years, NAGPRA’s characteristic equilibrium has fallen out of balance. In an effort to restore the law’s equipoise, the Department of the Interior published a new final rule, effective May 14, 2010, delineating procedures for the disposition of culturally unidentified Native American human remains in the possession or control of museums and federal agencies. In this attempt, however, the new law swung too far. By evaluating the new rule’s impact on culturally unidentified human remains, this article interrogates the notion that the new regulation is an “important step toward fulfilling the intent of Congress as expressed in NAGPRA.” Because NAGPRA itself is silent on the appropriate disposition of culturally unidentified remains, the only guidance about the intent of the new law comes from the legislative history of the Act, the Department of the Interior, and the courts. Each source establishes NAGPRA as human rights legislation designed to protect Native Americans’ rights and demonstrate respect for remains while achieving an agreeable counterpoise between the competing interests of the Native American and scientific communities.
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