by Kellie J. Bowers, Collections Curator at the Alabama Department of Archives and History
The Alabama NAGPRA Practitioners (ANP) group was initiated by Eugene Futato, Curator Emeritus of Archaeological Collections at the University of Alabama, in the summer of 2019 after attending the University of Denver Museum of Anthropology's NAGPRA Summit. While at the summit, attendees were challenged to continue the conversation by forming their own communities of practice. I had been hired at the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) the year before specifically to work on a NAGPRA project. As our team at the ADAH delved into the NAGPRA process, we wished we had access to a centralized source of materials and to NAGPRA support specific to the Southeast. When the opportunity arose to help form an Alabama practitioners group, we were excited and immediately committed to the cause, offering the ADAH as a centralized meeting location and our time as coordinators of future meetings.
The first meeting began with introductions and a summary of the goals and topics discussed at the Denver summit. As modeled by the summit, our group sought to create an atmosphere of openness and confidentiality in our support for one another throughout the NAGPRA process. As we became more familiar with each other's projects, it was clear that many of us were encountering similar issues in navigating our roles as collections managers, institutional interests, and our own personal and professional ethics. We also discovered that we had more in common than just the NAGPRA process—many of our institutions had materials from the same archaeological sites and/or excavators. We had much to offer each other in the vein of useful site information and data.
Members of the group also expressed the desire and need to continue to educate ourselves and expand our perspectives on NAGPRA and repatriation issues. Many of us have been seeking out learning opportunities such as the NAGPRA session at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference in 2019 and the University of Denver's new monthly NAGPRA Community of Practice phone call. We were also lucky enough to hold a meeting in tandem with a talk given by Dr. Kathleen Fire-Dare, author of Grave Injustice: The American Indian Repatriation Movement and NAGPRA, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in February 2020. Our combined experiences allow us to pool resources and ideas that we would not be able to compile individually due to time and financial constraints.
The ANP group has met only a few times; we are still actively navigating how we can best function to help and support each other in working toward compliance. Our members are at various stages of the process and have different levels of experience with NAGPRA. We started out with just Alabama museum professionals and then invited colleagues at CRM firms, various state and federal agencies, and other institutions. Our last meeting even included practitioners from out of state who may potentially start their own community of practice. As we continue to develop and better define our collective toolkit, I think it is safe to say that even just opening up a dialog about NAGPRA issues has been enough to consider the group a success.