Repatriation and Reconciliation

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Since the passing of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), the Denver Museum of Nature & Science has invested time and energy into ensuring that Native American cultural objects and human remains return to the tribes in which they belong. But what happens after they go back?

Dr. Chip Colwell is conducting an ethnographic project to study whether the return of these objects and remains has led to the healing of the wounds of history.

"Often when these objects went missing from the tribes, it led to social turmoil and spiritual crises. What I want to find out is if the return of these objects has really led to the process of healing, and if it has brought these communities back together," said Dr. Colwell.

The project explores three central questions. First, in what ways have the moral obligations of repatriation shifted people's beliefs and behaviors, as well as museum policies and strategies? Second, why and when does repatriation become a form of restorative justice? And third, how are perceived ethical duties about repatriation negotiated within and between tribes and museums? These questions are investigated using a survey of federally recognized tribes along with interviewing community leaders and elders from four regions in the United States.

Funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the findings will be written in journal articles and a book for the general public that will tell the life stories of repatriated objects.

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