There is a long history in the United States of systematic disenfranchisement of Native American people, including lack of respect for tribal sovereignty. This includes the egregious treatment of Native American human remains. Over several centuries, thousands of Native American remains were removed from tribal lands and held at institutions in the United States, such as museums and universities.
In 1990, a landmark human rights federal law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), spurred change in the professional standards and practice of biological anthropology and archaeology. NAGPRA established a legal avenue to provide protection for and repatriation of Native American remains, cultural items, and sacred objects removed from Federal or tribal lands to Native American lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations. Human remains and associated artifacts, curated in museum collections and federally funded institutions, are subject to three primary provisions outlined by the NAGPRA statute: (1) protection for Native graves on federal and private land; (2) recognition of tribal authority on such lands; and (3) the requirement that all Native skeletal remains and associated artifacts be inventoried and culturally affiliated groups be consulted concerning decisions related to ownership and final disposition (Rose, Green, and Green 1996). NAGPRA legislation was enacted to ensure ethical consideration and treatment of Native remains and to improve dialogue between scientists and Native groups.
What does it take to be a forensic anthropologist? Forensic anthropologists are first and foremost anthropologists. While many forensic anthropologists have an undergraduate degree in anthropology, they may also major in biology, criminal justice, pre-law, pre-med, and many other related fields. Practicing forensic anthropologists typically have an advanced degree, either a Master’s or Doctoral degree in Anthropology. Additional training and experience in archaeology, the medico-legal system, rules of evidence, and expert witness testimony are also common. Practicing forensic anthropologists are also encouraged to be board-certified through the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA). Learn more about the field and educational opportunities on the ABFA website.