National Museum of the American Indian Act
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The National Museum of the American Indian Act (NMAIA) was enacted on November 28, 1989, as Public Law 101-185. The law established the National Museum of the American Indian as part of the Smithsonian Institution. This law also required the Secretary of the Smithsonian to prepare an inventory of all Indian and Native Hawaiian human remains and funerary objects in Smithsonian collections, as well as consider the repatriation of these items to federally recognized Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.
The Smithsonian Institution
The NMAIA expands the Smithsonian Institution by authorizing erection of a new museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to house Native American artifacts from the Heye Foundation's Museum of the American Indian. In recognition of the Heye Foundation's origins in New York, the George Gustave Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian was also created by the NMAIA in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City.
The purpose of the NMAI is threefold:
- To advance the study of Native Americans
- To collect, preserve, and exhibit Native American objects
- To provide for Native American research and study programs
Inventory and repatriation
Prior to enactment of the NMAIA, representatives of the Native American Rights Fund and the Association for Native American Affairs told Congressional staffers that they would oppose the bill if repatriation provisions were not included. At an August, 1989, meeting in Santa Fe, NM, Secretary of the Smithsonian Robert McCormick Adams, Jr., agreed that the Smithsonian would abide by new repatriation provisions. As a result of the law, the Secretary of the Smithsonian is required to inventory Indian and Native Hawaiian human remains and funerary objects in the possession or control of the Smithsonian Institution and return them upon request by a descendant or culturally affiliated Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization. These artifacts are housed primarily in the National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of Natural History, and National Museum of American History.
The Smithsonian had amassed a huge collection of Native American artifacts and memorabilia including:
- 4,000 Native American remains. In 1867, the Surgeon General of the United States Army requested Army medical officers to send skeletal remains of Native Americans to the Army Medical Museum. These remains were later transferred to the Smithsonian Institution beginning in 1898.
- Through archaeological excavations, individual donations, and museum donations, the Smithsonian was able to acquire about 14,000 additional Native American remains.
- The acquisition of the Heye Foundation's collections added 800,000 artifacts to the Smithsonian's Native American collections.
The 1989 act applied only to the repatriation of Indian and Native Hawaiian human remains and funerary objects. The NMAIA was amended in 1996 to include additional categories derived from the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act enacted in 1990, with similar definitions:
- Human remains
- Associated funerary objects
- Unassociated funerary objects
- Sacred objects
- Objects of cultural patrimony
The 1996 amendment also established specific deadlines for the Smithsonian complete its summary and inventory tasks. The National Museum of Natural History posted collection summaries on its website. By 2007, the remains of 18.568 individuals had been identified. Of these, remains representing 5,435 individuals (29%) had been offered for repatriation to linenl descendants or culturally affiliated Indian lribes or Native Hawaiian organizations. By 1996, the National Museum of the American Indian had identified the remains of 524 individuals in its collection, of which 227 (41%) had already been repatriated.
- Watkins, Joe. Representing and Repatriating the Past, North American Archaeology 2005. Blackwell Publishing.
- Congressional Transcript of the passing of the bill
- National Museum of the American Indian Act
- National Museum of the American Indian. "Repatriation Office." 2012. NMAI Repatriation Office
- National Museum of Natural History. "Repatriation Office." 2012. NMNH Repatriation Office
- Law review article comparing legislation in the US and Australia