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Museum Anthropology

Repatriation and the Reconstruction of Identity


  • Jordan Jacobs


A proposed change to American repatriation law provides an opportunity to reexamine the assumptions on which the original statute was built. For their justification, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the National Museum of the American Indian Act rely on the supposition that bounded communities proceed through time along a unilinear path—a misconception stemming from both universal, identity-forming processes and the discipline of archaeology itself. A case study involving the National Museum of the American Indian's 2003 repatriation of human remains to a rural village in Cuba demonstrates how various identities can manipulate the transfer of archaeological material to fit their own symbolic needs.

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