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Engaging University Students in the NAGPRA Process

By Anne Amati, NAGPRA Coordinator/Registrar, University of Denver Museum of Anthropology

When I started in my role as NAGPRA Coordinator at the University of Denver Museum of Anthropology, I was encouraged by the museum’s Director to include students in NAGPRA-related activities, as appropriate and approved by consulting Tribes.

The students are often graduate students in the Museum and Heritage Studies Program in the Department of Anthropology or advanced undergraduate Anthropology majors. They usually have received classroom instruction on NAGPRA and have expressed an interest in assisting with museum activities related to NAGPRA. We see it as an opportunity to train the next generation of museum professionals in ethical stewardship and NAGPRA implementation.

Over the years, projects have included compiling lists of collections that may include NAGPRA cultural items to send updated summaries to potentially affiliated Tribes; adding NAGPRA-relevant information to the collections management system including Notice publish dates and past repatriation information as well as relating records for associated funerary objects to records for ancestral remains; and assisting with compiling information from museum records in preparation for consultations. When consultations occur, students often assist with notetaking and meeting logistics, with permission from the consulting Tribes.

When Tribal representatives visit campus for consultations or repatriations, there are sometimes opportunities for student interactions outside the museum, such as presentations in classes or special lectures. The DU Native Student Alliance, along with Indigenous faculty and staff, have also hosted meals with visiting representatives, providing an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about their work.

Engaging students in NAGPRA activities is not always appropriate and museums and universities should always consult on who will carry out NAGPRA-related activities, especially regarding the care and handling of ancestral remains and cultural items, and who will participate in consultations.

I want to thank all the DU students who have worked (and are currently working) with me on NAGPRA-related activities. I also want to thank all of the Tribal representatives who have encouraged student engagement in the NAGPRA process and have gone out of their way to share their expertise with me and the students.

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