History Colorado’s NAGPRA Program continues to be active in a variety of areas. Recent years have been spent consulting and researching to find resolution for challenging sets of remains that were in the museum’s custody, and several Notices of Inventory Completion have been published to repatriate or disposition them. We continue to receive and resolve new sets of remains through inadvertent discoveries on State and private lands or through law enforcement. Fortunately, because of our State Process, which is implemented collaboratively with the Office of the State Archaeologist, Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, about 80% of the inadvertent discoveries are able to remain in situ or be reburied at depth promptly nearby. This is directly the reverse of the situation before the Process went into effect.
In 2012, History Colorado, along with other museums in the State, faced another barrier--finding land acceptable to tribes for reburial of repatriated ancestors. Reburial is not addressed in NAGPRA. At the request of the Colorado Ute Tribes, several federal and state agencies, museums and tribal representatives began meeting to address this problem. Efforts culminated in a groundbreaking Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was signed in late 2013. The MOU set up a process by which land managing agencies work within their various policies to consider reburial requests from tribes and museums. Implementation began in 2014 and already several repatriated individuals have been able to be reburied.
History Colorado was awarded an NPS NAGPRA consultation/documentation grant in 2014. Grant funds will enable us to conduct a comprehensive review of our Ute artifacts with tribal representatives and elders. Our Ute collection is our largest ethnographic collection which has grown since the last collection review in the 1990s. We look forward to identifying any cultural items that fall under NAGPRA as well as gaining valuable information about the artifacts.
Image: This dress was obtained between 1915 and 1920 by the Henry Crawford family at the Ute Mountain Indian Agency at Towoac, Colorado. The Crawfords owned and operated the Crawford Trading Post. The donor indicated that the dress may have belonged to Chipeta. This dress is not a NAGPRA item, but is part of the Ute collection. (2003.114.2)
There has been a Native American presence in what is now known as Colorado for at least 11,000 years. The depth and breadth of the Native American presence in Colorado make it no surprise that during the course of modern development, activities result in the discovery of unmarked graves on State and private lands. What happens next is covered by State statute. When unmarked graves are determined to be Native American, the Office of the State Archaeologist directs a burial investigation. The State Archaeologist works with the Executive Secretary of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, landowners, and at least one designated representative from a resident Ute Tribe in Colorado, to decide if the individual(s) must be disinterred.
History Colorado learned in consultations that tribes wish to leave graves undisturbed whenever possible. When a grave cannot be left undisturbed, remains are brought to History Colorado and then transferred to the Department of Material Culture for repatriation under NAGPRA. So, while HC does not “collect” human remains, it finds itself coming into the possession of human remains and is subject to the regulations of NAGPRA. It is also important to point out that since the development of the Process for Consultation, Transfer, and Reburial of Culturally Unidentifiable Native American Human Remains and Associated Funerary Objects Originating From Inadvertent Discoveries on Colorado State and Private Lands (Process), fewer individuals have been disinterred than before. The above-mentioned team has been able to forge an understanding with most landowners of tribal preferences to leave graves undisturbed.
When remains are disinterred, History Colorado conducts tribal consultation and research to try to identify cultural affiliation. Sometimes, however, there simply is not enough evidence to determine cultural affiliation. NAGPRA uses the term “culturally unidentifiable” (CUI) to identify these individuals. When NAGPRA was enacted in 1990, the regulations for disposition of CUI individuals were reserved. This was a source of frustration to many tribes across the U.S. because large numbers of CUI individuals remained in museums and agencies. It was possible for institutions to request a recommendation for disposition for CUI individuals from the NAGPRA Review Committee. If a recommendation was obtained, the United States Secretary of the Interior could authorize disposition. History Colorado, the Colorado Ute tribes, the CCIA, and the State Attorney General’s office started to work together as early as 1999 on a different solution. Ultimately, in 2008, the above-mentioned Process was approved by the United States Department of the Interior. This document is available on our website (click here).
In 2009, under the Process and NAGPRA, HC dispositioned 68 culturally unidentifiable individuals and 63 associated funerary objects to the Colorado Ute Tribes and these individuals were reburied. In 2010, the federal regulations for CUI were promulgated but they do not cover all CUI. The Process applies to CUI individuals not covered in the regulations. In 2012, HC dispositioned an additional 24 individuals and 41 associated funerary objects. These individuals were reburied this year.
In 1990, when the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed, the Act required museums to compile and report summaries of unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony by November 16, 1993 to potentially affiliated tribes and the National Park Service (NPS). The act also required museums to compile and report inventories of Native American human remains and associated funerary objects by November 16, 1995 to potentially affiliated tribes and NPS. Those remains that were not potentially affiliated, but rather were considered "culturally unidentifiable" were reported to the Manager of the National NAGPRA Program, who provided this information to the NAGPRA Review Committee. History Colorado met the required deadlines for submitting summaries and inventory listings.
History Colorado finds itself in a rather unique situation, however, not actively collecting but continuing to take into custody Native American human remains. This is because History Colorado includes the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP), where the State Archaeologist's position resides. Very few other states have this arrangement. Colorado State statutes require that the State Archaeologist take into custody Native American human remains that are discovered on state and private lands if they have to be disinterred (24-80-1301ff, Part 13 Unmarked Human Graves). Once taken into custody, they are transferred to the Department of Material Culture at History Colorado for care and for repatriation or disposition under NAGPRA. For History Colorado to be in compliance with NAGPRA, all Native American individuals who come into our custody after the 1995 deadline for inventory submission must be reported to tribes and NPS in amended inventory listings, under the Future Applicability regulations (43 C.F.R. 10.13). History Colorado submitted its most recent amended inventory listing on October 28, 2011.
In order to complete the inventory, over the past two years, History Colorado has conducted meetings, inviting representatives from a total of forty tribes to consult. During these meetings, evidence was presented that allowed HC to make cultural affiliation determinations for many individuals and associated funerary objects. Fifty-nine individuals and thirty-nine associated funerary objects were repatriated to the twenty-one present day Pueblos (Notice of Inventory Completion, Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 115, June 15, 2011, pages 35010-35012). In addition, seven individuals were repatriated to the Navajo Nation (Notice of Inventory Completion, Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 93, May 13, 2011, pages 28071-28072). A small number of individuals were unable to be culturally affiliated, and one individual was claimed by two tribes. These will be reported on Notices currently being drafted. The disposition of these individuals will be discussed in the next installment of History Colorado NAGPRA Program News.
Contact the NAGPRA Team
For additional details of NAGPRA Program activities, both completed and ongoing, contact: